Sine Die 2023: Gov. DeSantis-driven Session ends with GOP wins, Democratic outrage
Image via AP

Ron DeSantis
'I don’t think there’s ever been a six-month stretch that has been this productive.'

Before the 60-day Regular Session was halfway over, lawmakers had passed bills allowing Floridians to carry concealed guns without permits and letting every Florida child get a taxpayer-funded voucher to a private school.

The conservative wins continued to rack up from there, as the GOP supermajority in the Legislature delivered on an aggressive agenda for Gov. Ron DeSantis as he prepares to mount a bid for President.

That agenda included a six-week abortion ban; restrictions or outright bans on health care procedures for transgender minors and discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools; and defunding diversity programs in universities.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a six-month stretch that has been this productive in the history of the state, and I would put our state up against any state in the country,” DeSantis said after Sine Die Friday, nodding to the two Special Sessions held by the Legislature before the Regular Session began in March.

Democrats in the minority could do little except slow down (at times) the march of legislation, aside from sounding the alarm about what they see as the harmful effects the new laws will carry.

“The abortion ban is absolutely horrifying and un-American and does not reflect what the majority of Americans want,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat and former Planned Parenthood employee who has championed abortion rights.

DeSantis’ agenda, though, carried the day.

His plan to crack down on illegal immigration was approved, requiring small and medium-sized businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to check immigration status for new hires, requiring hospitals that accept Medicaid to check patients’ immigration status, and allowing anyone who knowingly transports an undocumented immigrant across the state lines to be charged with human trafficking.

DeSantis’ controversial program to move unauthorized migrants around the country was newly funded with $12 million.

Some public sector unions will be barred from automatically deducting union dues from their members’ paychecks. The bill applies to teachers’ and nurses’ unions, which often back Democrats politically, but not police and firefighters’ unions, which frequently back Republicans.

DeSantis’ proposal to eliminate funding for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at all public universities made it across the finish line as well.

Democrats described much of the agenda as cruel to transgender people and immigrants, political retribution on unions, and shortsighted culture warring that will make Florida’s top-notch university system less competitive. Republicans, though, saw most of DeSantis’ plans as common sense, long overdue, or a combination of the two.

“We need to let kids be kids, and our laws need to set appropriate boundaries that respect the rights and responsibilities of parents while protecting children,” said Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican who sponsored SB 1438, which revokes the business license of any company that allows minors to attend a drag show, and SB 254, which bans sex reassignment procedures for minors.

“As lawmakers, we have to draw the line when drastic, life-altering gender dysphoria therapies and surgeries are mutilating young children.”

On top of the major policy victories for DeSantis, lawmakers approved several measures to clear his path for a presidential run and to help him continue a feud with the state’s most iconic brand: The Walt Disney Co.

Lawmakers approved a measure seeking to nullify a deal that allowed Disney to control the land in the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which was passed before DeSantis’ appointees to the new board took over in February. They also passed a bill giving the state the authority to inspect the monorail that services Disney theme parks, and the Senate confirmed DeSantis’ picks to the board.

The Legislature also passed a provision to ensure the state’s resign-to-run law requiring elected officials to resign their position to run for higher office doesn’t apply to people running for President or Vice President, a nod to DeSantis’ likely bid for the GOP nomination. Lawmakers also passed a measure blocking out DeSantis’ travel records, making it harder to track travel and spending as he heads out on the campaign trail.

For Democrats, the focus on culture war issues obscured the lack of action on pocketbook issues. Although Republicans pushed across bills to address the affordable housing shortage and increase fines and oversight of property insurers, Democrats said they fell short of providing actual relief for residents suffering from soaring increases in rent and property insurance rates.

“One of the most disappointing parts of this Session was that while we were voting on issues that no one asked for, bills that were filed to address the concerns all our constituents face such as rising property insurance costs and rising auto insurance costs were never heard in committee,” said Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Parkland Democrat.

But Senate President Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, who championed the affordable housing bill that provides incentives to developers to build cheaper housing and includes more than $700 million for housing programs, believes the measure will have an outsize impact to lower rents.

“With our Live Local Act, more Floridians can afford to live close to good jobs, where they can raise their families in the heart of the communities they serve,” Passidomo said.

“Insurance and litigation reforms with strong protections for consumers, coupled with permanent tax relief on key items will help eliminate hidden costs that increase the price of goods and services, keeping Florida affordable for those at every income level and stage of life.”

If the conservative bills and their swift passage demoralized Democrats in the Legislature, it incensed progressive activists. Small but vocal groups of protesters were a common presence in the Capitol throughout the Session, and the anger threatened to boil over at times, with frequent disruptions in committee hearings and one instance of throwing of items on the House floor from the gallery.

Fourteen protesters were arrested in the last week of the Session for occupying the lobby of DeSantis’ Office.

Yet despite the bitter feeling engendered by the juggernaut of conservative bills, DeSantis didn’t get everything he requested from the Legislature, and Republicans allowed some Democratic bills to pass.

DeSantis’ plans to erode press freedoms by passing a bill aimed at overturning a precedent-setting a high bar to prove defamation were rebuffed. His push to repeal a waiver for in-state tuition rates for children brought to the state illegally by their parents — a bill sponsored by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez when she was a House member in 2014 — was left out of the immigration crackdown bill.

Bills sponsored by Democrats to expand KidCare, a children’s health care program; find and restore abandoned African American cemeteries; and legalize fentanyl testing strips to prevent unintentional overdoses all will head to DeSantis’ desk.

Moreover, Democrats joined with Republicans on some pieces of DeSantis’ agenda, including reforming pharmacy benefit managers, banning central bank digital currencies, and imposing requirements on Big Tech firms to be transparent in tracking users.

But for the most part, the Session was one of triumph for a Republican caucus reveling in its supermajority and one of loathing for Democrats.

“The positive bills don’t make up for the negative ones by any means. At the end of the day banning abortion is incredibly damaging from a health perspective, from a bodily autonomy perspective, from an economic security perspective,” Eskamani said. “I feel optimistic that Floridians will wake up and help us fight back against it, but I will not be celebrating (today).”

Gray Rohrer


7 comments

  • John Doe

    May 5, 2023 at 12:58 pm

    It’s not “democrats in the minority” it’s “Minorities in the democrats”

    • Earl Pitts American

      May 5, 2023 at 5:28 pm

      Good evening John,
      Fact is minorities are leaving the Democratic party in droves. Y’all cant come in like y’alll did spending like drunken sailors and trashing the economey and expect to retain your voter base. The Democratic party is going into 2024 with the error of thinking they are going replay with their 2020 voter base and thats just inaccurate.

      • Elliott Offen

        May 5, 2023 at 6:51 pm

        Trump and DeSantis are politically impotent and radioactive waste for 2024. The deadly riot, the whacko religious laws, and the right wing police state theatre have terrified humanity. Trump will lose by double the votes that he LOST by last time. And you are a terrorist supporter and neo nazi troll… Mike Lindell propaganda peddler. You can’t be taken seriously.

  • Billy the Bamboozler

    May 5, 2023 at 1:41 pm

    Productive my azz. What’s he done for the average Joe? Nothing. Just passed a bunch of whacko religious laws and right wing police state actions..law and order political theatre. Gonna shovel more people into his cruel and inhumane concentration camps for as long as possible. All this benefits the rich. Gonna be like Singapore here in a few years. Like something out of the movie Demolition Man. Fines for cursing.

    • Dont Say FLA

      May 6, 2023 at 9:16 am

      For the average Joe, Rhon DasPanties made himself ineligible to hold office at the National level where there’s any opposition to speak of that would have to be worked with. Rhonda works great in the exclusive echo chamber. Outside Fleur D’uh the Purple People Hater would be entirely ineffective and all us purple people know it.

  • SteveHC

    May 5, 2023 at 3:00 pm

    DeSantis is delusional. “ ‘I don’t think there’s ever been a six-month stretch that has been this productive in the history of the state, and I would put our state up against any state in the country,’ DeSantis said”. “Productive”? More like destructive.

    • Dont Say FLA

      May 6, 2023 at 9:14 am

      If we look at these past 6 months as Rhon DasPanties disqualifying himself from even potentially becoming U.S. President, then yes, these 6 months were highly productive. Thanks to all Floridians for taking one for Team USA!

Comments are closed.


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