By Thomas Kennedy
A few months ago, I warned that after two decades of uninterrupted GOP rule, the Florida legislature would no longer function as an independent body, but instead serve as a rubber stamp for Ron DeSantis.
Unfortunately, lawmakers did exactly that, carrying out what amounted to the most destructive and irresponsible lawmaking period in recent Florida history. It was a disgraceful display of rampant corruption, pay-to-play politics, shameless cronyism, and hateful legislation that sought to turn the clock back to the days of the Jim Crow south, with extra goodies for major corporations.
Anyone who isn’t a white, Christian, conservative man will be immediately harmed by what transpired in Tallahassee over the past few months. Trans individuals were ostracized and stripped of their rights to live as their true selves, from obtaining the gender-affirming care they need down to even using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender. The mere discussion of LGBTQ+ people was restricted in middle and high schools. Giant targets were painted on the backs of immigrants. Black voters will face further obstacles to cast a ballot. Reproductive rights were significantly restricted.
But even white, Christian, conservative men will be hurt by what transpired in Tallahassee. Corporations were given dominion over cities and communities. Unions were assaulted. Housing was made even more expensive. Now anybody can carry a gun in Florida, where the streets will soon be paved with allowed radioactive materials.
The ongoing failure by Florida Democrats to mount any sort of electoral opposition to the grifter Republicans in Tallahassee has enabled and emboldened lawmakers who do not believe that they should care about the public interest. Their corruption is rampant, but unexamined. It’s increasingly impossible to afford to live in Florida, but legislators continue to grow fatter on corporate largesse.
It has never been worse, and much of that owes to the ambitions of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The culture war cruelties that have come to dominate the national headlines and our lives here in Florida are a product of his increasingly futile attempt to capture the far-right segment of the GOP electorate. They also serve to distract from the Republican vicious attacks on working people — attacking Disney, for example, obscures the monstrous corporate giveaways that Republicans now provide on an annual basis. Shameful is far too generous a word.
Early in the legislative session, we compiled a list of some of the most harmful bills that were gaining traction with lawmakers. There are too many to name all of them, but below you’ll find a long sample of the most egregious. Florida was never perfect, to say the least, but it’s a nice place to live and there are good people here.
This is exactly why fourteen of us were arrested while occupying Ron DeSantis’ office in the final week of the session. We were supported by over 100 fed-up Floridians who protested with us by singing civil rights songs and chants while speaking out against this malignant force.
We were ultimately booked and held in Leon County Jail that night and charged with misdemeanor trespassing, which carries a punishment of up to one year in jail if convicted. For the next year, we will be banned from entering the Florida Capitol, which is run by people who support the Jan. 6th insurrection. We won’t be cowed, and the first step is educating people about the damage being done down here without veering toward DeSantis’s hapless presidential campaign.
SB 300: The Cowardly Six-Week Abortion Ban
Ron DeSantis spent the better part of 2022 running away any time he was asked whether he’d support even more draconian restrictions on reproductive health care after signing a 15 week abortion ban. Even a prolific and shameless liar like DeSantis knew that it’d be a political disaster to tell the truth.
The governor remained mum until Republican legislators fast-tracked a six week abortion ban with almost zero opportunity for public comment. DeSantis then emerged from his local Big & Tall store and continued his cowardly effort to subjugate women without taking any heat, signing the ban into law in the middle of the night, with no press questions allowed. This from a guy who gave Fox News the “exclusive” right to broadcast his smug face as he signed a voter suppression bill into law.
DeSantis has remained quiet on the law ever since. There is now an effort by reproductive rights advocates to put a referendum on the ballot that will overturn this law and expand abortion access in Florida
SB 202: The Defund Public Schools Act
This bill will continue to take money from Florida’s struggling public schools and hand it over to unaccountable private charter schools through a voucher program.
Some estimates project at least $4 billion going from public to private schools in $7400-a-pop allotments, which is made all the worse by the fact that the money is available to wealthy families who do not need government handouts to pay for private school. That includes GOP state Rep. Randy Fine, who moronically and shamelessly bragged that he would be “one of the millionaires who would get a scholarship under this thing.”
SB 102: The Landlord Protection Act
Floridians are dealing with one of the most out-of-control housing markets in the country, with both rents and property prices skyrocketing. The legislature’s solution? Make it worse by taking away local governments’ already-narrow ability to enact rent control.
This bill was retaliation after 59% of Orange County residents voted in 2022 to enact a rent stabilization ordinance amid skyrocketing rental prices. Not that the legislature had the guts to tell people that. Instead, it was sold to the public as an affordable housing bill because it contained a bunch of giveaways to developers who will use the money to produce market rate homes.
HB 543: The Get More People Murdered Act
One of Ron DeSantis’s priority bills for this legislative session, it allows Floridians to carry a concealed gun without first going through the required training. DeSantis frames this as a way of promoting self-defense and personal freedom; statistics indicate that permitless carry laws are simply ways to quickly and exponentially increase violence and murder.
States that passed permitless carry saw a 22% increase in gun homicide for the three years after passage. When Arizona repealed its concealed carry requirement in 2010, there was an 11% increase in gun injuries and deaths. And yet that isn’t enough killing for the state’s pro-gun lunatics, who continue to demand that the state allow anyone to openly carry a gun without any training.
That it hasn’t happened yet is not down to any decency from the top; DeSantis held a rally recently in Georgia, where he told frothing open carry advocates that he said he would pass it if he could “get the votes.”
SB 494: The Predatory Housing Scam Act
This proposal was backed by out-of-state companies that wanted Florida lawmakers to allow them to charge perpetual, limitless junk fees on tenants who can’t come up with cash to pay security deposits when moving into a new apartment. As a bonus, it also guts security deposit protections.
We wrote about this travesty earlier this spring. Sadly, some Democrats voted for it.
SB 256: The Destroy Worker Rights Act
This new law makes it illegal for public sector unions to automatically deduct dues from members’ paychecks, making it essentially a new kind of bureaucratic right-to-work law. Blocking the automatic dues deduction not only deprives public sector unions of funding, it also puts them in danger of being forced to go through annual decertification votes, which kick in when a union drops below 60% active membership.
After years of grinding corporate erosion of workers’ rights, public sector unions have been labor’s one real bulwark against total decline. That’s especially the case in the South, which has always been extremely inhospitable to private sector collective bargaining. This law seeks to hobble the public sector unions, which just so happen to provide a bulk of the political opposition to DeSantis’s regime of terror.
Quite notably, police unions are exempt from this new law.
SB 1718: The Terrorize Innocent Immigrants & Tank the Economy Act
One of the most xenophobic bills ever filed in modern Florida history, this bill initially made it a third-degree felony to drive or house an undocumented immigrant, including family. Fortunately, that section of the bill was amended due to outcry from community members and advocacy organizations (including our post about it) but the final bill is still awful.
The law, signed last week prohibits local funding of community identification programs that allow those who can’t get a driver’s license or state-level ID card to access municipal-level identification cards; expands E-verify to make it harder for immigrants to work and small businesses to hire; and violates HIPPA by mandating healthcare providers to ask patients their immigration status. And just for good measure, it blocks undocumented people from practicing law in Florida.
Remember that undocumented Floridians pay more in taxes than Ron DeSantis’s billionaire donors.
SB 1438: The Beta Man Drag Panic Act
This is a law to revoke licenses of establishments that admit a child to so-called “adult live performances” is a ban on drag shows… and other things?
What that entails is defined extremely broadly in the proposal, but violating it would constitute a misdemeanor of the first degree. Pride shows across the state have already been canceled due to fear of violating this vague, menacing law.
As was bound to happen in Florida, it turns out that the wife of Randy Fine, the sponsor of the bill, participates in sexually-charged burlesque shows that are staged in front of children. This year, the show is sponsored by Fine’s re-election campaign.
HB 1521: The GOP Genital Obsession Act
Criminalizes transgender Floridians from using public bathrooms matching their gender identity. The weird obsession with genitals and the creepy sexualization of public bathrooms by right-wingers continues.
HB 1069: Dead-Name Kids Act
Expands last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. This new law bars teachers from referring to someone by their preferred pronoun or name. It prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity and creates a toxic environment by forcing school staff and students to misgender one another. The bill is designed to double down on the DeSantis’ censorship agenda that has already resulted in the banning of books, the removal of Safe Space stickers from classroom windows, and refusals to recognize LGBTQ History Month.
SB 254: The Eradicate Transgender Kids Act
This one expands Florida’s ban and restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors and adds restrictions to care for adults. This bill is incredibly mean. It gives state authorities the disturbing ability to strip custody from parents who support their transgender children.
Doctors are also under fire here. The bill threatens providers by promising to take away the medical licenses of medical professionals that provide gender-affirming care and prosecute them as felons. The bill then prohibits Medicaid from covering gender-affirming care for transgender youth and adults, and further forbids other public funds, including those of a public university, public hospital, and city or county, from being used to provide benefits that include gender-affirming care.
As for that first part, about the custody, the bill allows the state to use gender-affirming care or the “risk” of such care for a child as a reason to give Florida family courts exceptional jurisdiction to set aside another state’s custody determination.
SB 266: The Right-Wing Loser University Act
Bans funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and restricts teaching about race and gender on college campuses. The legislation also restricts what can be taught in college classrooms by instructing the Board of Governors to review classes for violations of the Stop WOKE Act and to flag class content that may be “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, or privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, or economic inequities.”
It’s clearly unconstitutional and an effort by right-wingers to censor ideas they don’t like.
SB 7050: Help Ron Run for President Act
This law is outrageous. It changes Florida’s resign to run provisions so that Ron DeSantis can run for president while being paid by taxpayers for not doing his job as governor and it increases regulations and fines on third-party voter registration organizations, which have been a target of the Florida GOP for years. Adding insult to injury, it allows politicians to disclose campaign donations less frequently.
In a move that truly highlights the retrograde backward mentality of the DeSantis and Tallahassee lawmakers, this law lowers the death penalty threshold to just eight out of 12 jurors in favor of execution.
It’s a big win for sadists: Florida now boasts the lowest death penalty threshold in the nation, leapfrogging Alabama (10-2), the only other state that doesn’t require a unanimous jury. There is every chance that this will result in the execution of innocent people. Since 1973, at least 190 people on death row have been exonerated of their alleged crimes.
HB 1191: Radioactive Roads Act
This one is truly wild. Florida lawmakers basically want to use radioactive material to pave roads. I know it sounds insane, and if you don’t believe me, read more about it here.
SB 170: The Corporations Over Communities Act
This one would allow big businesses and their teams of corporate lawyers to sue local governments for ordinances they view as “arbitrary or unreasonable” and suspend enforcement of that ordinance until the court issues a ruling. It puts the financial burden on taxpayers to defend against for-profit corporations for passing local laws that serve the needs of their communities, for example regarding affordable housing, minimum wage increases, or anti-pollution measures.
HB 837: The End Insurance Payouts Act
A win for big business interests and a loss for everyone else, this law will make it harder, and more expensive, to sue insurance companies. Specifically, the legislation makes it harder for homeowners to sue their insurance companies; limits how much someone could collect in medical expenses in negligence lawsuits; and requires juries to weigh the role of criminals when determining the level of negligence.
SB 1616: The DeSantis Campaign Fundraiser Secrecy Act
For the first time in Florida history, information regarding the travel and meetings of the governor and other state officials will be shielded from the public. This is happening as questions linger regarding if taxpayers are footing the bill for DeSantis’ political trips as he prepares to run for president. This law is obviously meant to shield him from scrutiny as he meets the 42 billionaires and special interest groups who have funded his political campaigns so far.
In case you are wondering, lawmakers did nothing to lower homeowners’ insurance premiums, which continue to skyrocket and are expected to go up 60% this year, despite a $2 billion taxpayer-funded bailout that was previously approved by lawmakers.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member from Florida. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @tomaskenn and on Substack at Tomaskenn.Substack.com
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