TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With just one left week to go in the annual legislative session, Florida’s Republican-led lawmakers have largely delivered on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top policy priorities — but there are still a handful of items left unfulfilled.
While DeSantis has clearly succeeded in pushing GOP lawmakers to support his long list of legislative requests, lawmakers resisted passing a bill that made it easier to sue journalists, and the legislation is now dead. It even received push-back from conservative media outlets.
Although legislators are likely to pass the governor’s signature immigration overhaul, they likely won’t include some key provisions, including a repeal of the state law that allows some undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition rates.
The fate of a “digital bill of rights” that was aimed at Big Tech companies is up in the air with just days left. And while the Senate and House have passed rival versions of a controversial bill to ban gender-affirming care to minors — another top priority that DeSantis highlighted in his state of the state speech — Republicans are at odds over some of the provisions in the bill, including a proposal to outlaw private insurance companies from covering treatments.
The DeSantis administration did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
DeSantis’ expected presidential bid has loomed over much of the legislative session, and Republicans for the most part fulfilled DeSantis’ agenda. The governor has already touted some of those policy wins both here and abroad, such as last week when, while on a visit to Israel, he signed into law a measure that cracks down on hate crimes.
But Republican rivals and Democrats are already attacking some of these legislative achievements which are aimed at the conservative base but could turn off moderate Republicans. South Carolina GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, for example, publicly criticized DeSantis for signing a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, and billionaire GOP donor Thomas Peterffy told the Financial Times he was uncomfortable with the governor’s support for the abortion ban and wanted to wait before donating to him.
But Florida Republicans still trumpeted the support they provided the governor.
“Listen, I think we’ve delivered major, major victories on so many different fronts and the governor can rightly claim credit for having one of the biggest sessions certainly in Florida history,” Florida House Speaker Paul Renner said last week.
Their support provides DeSantis a long-list of legislative victories to tout to GOP primary voters across the country as springboard into a likely presidential campaign in a few weeks.
The list includes:
— Making it easier to execute criminals in Florida
— Banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy
— Imposing new rules on public sector unions aligned with Democrats, including banning the automatic deduction of union dues
— Ending permit requirements to carry concealed weapons
— Block children from attending adult-themed drag shows
DeSantis has also highlighted, during recent out-of-state stops, Florida’s dramatic expansion of private school vouchers that lawmakers also approved this year. And on Friday, legislators sent a sweeping elections bill to him that would clear up Florida law to make sure he would not have to resign as governor if he becomes GOP nominee for president.
Democrats, vastly outnumbered by the supermajority Republicans enjoy in the Legislature, have spent the entire session calling on Republicans to stand up to DeSantis instead of assisting his presumed bid for president.
“This session was about the governor’s wish list,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the House Democratic leader. “Effectively anything he wished for or dreamed for … the Legislature hustled to make it happen.”
But Driskell contended that she’s not sure that the legislative wins will give DeSantis the “national boost’ he was aiming for. She said while some of the bills passed this year were “red meat” for the conservative base they have alienated some GOP donors and would be unpopular with general election voters in 2024.
“We’re starting to see it backfire on him,” said Driskell.
DeSantis’ success with the Legislature is also drawing the ire of former President Donald Trump, who is also vying for the GOP presidential nomination. Trump on Sunday sharply criticized the newly passed elections bill as a “total mess.”
“I couldn’t care less if Ron DeSanctus runs, but the problem is the Bill he is about to sign, which allows him to run without resigning from being Governor, totally weakens Election Integrity in Florida,” Trump posted on his Truth Social platform. “Instead of getting tough, and doing what the people want (same day voting, Voter ID, proof of Citizenship, paper ballots, hand count, etc.) this Bill guts everything … ”
Yet DeSantis hasn’t just fared well in getting bills passed, but in a year when Florida has a hefty budget surplus, he also been highly successful in getting most of his budget recommendations pushed through including tens of millions for environmental projects, teacher pay, and the expansion of the fledgling Florida State Guard.
Legislators have also crafted a big tax cut package modeled largely on what DeSantis wanted, although a push by the governor to give Floridians a year-long tax break on certain household goods was not picked up.
“I think the governor has done very well, I think the Senate has done very well, I think the House has done very well,” maintained Rep. Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) and House budget chief when asked about the governor’s budget priorities.