TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — From expanding gun rights to going after “woke” investors, the Florida Legislature is quickly moving on a list of bills that will give Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis conservative-pleasing policy successes as he prepares to launch a presidential campaign.
The usually slow-moving Legislature ended the week by sending DeSantis bills to shield businesses and insurance companies from lawsuits, allow any Floridian to get a government-paid voucher for private schools and an affordable housing bill that prevents local governments from enacting rent control ordinances.
“We have a lot of the governor's priorities in a really good spot. We'll pass them,” House Speaker Paul Renner said Friday as lawmakers went home for the weekend. “We're moving quickly ... Some of what the governor has proposed is monumental and good, and we support it 100%."
That will give DeSantis more time to boast about successes while avoiding any perception of infighting if his priorities are held hostage until the closing moments of the session.
When the 60-day session opened, DeSantis predicted his priorities would pass quickly.
“They are mindful that it’s probably better not to have kind of an eight-car pileup the last week of session where the whole agenda gets through in the last 72 hours,” DeSantis said. “I think you’re going to see more earlier.”
DeSantis signed one of his priority bills during a private ceremony Friday. The new law creates more hurdles for people suing private companies and expands on legislation passed over the past year aimed at reining in skyrocketing property insurance rates.
“Florida has long been known as a ‘judicial hellhole’ due to the legal system’s incentivizing of excessive and frivolous lawsuits," DeSantis tweeted. “I signed a series of reforms that will protect Floridians and our economy from predatory lawsuits.”
But opponents said it's a giveaway to insurance companies at the expense of consumers.
“The new law does nothing to protect Floridians and everything to protect the profits of billionaire insurance corporations,” Curry Pajcic, president of the Florida Justice Association, said.
The Legislature also sent DeSantis a bill Friday to make it illegal for state and local investment funds to consider the environmental, social and governance stances companies support. One of DeSantis' biggest talking points is fighting back against “woke” corporations.
“It’s a form of Marxism being pushed by unelected officials, progressives that hate our country and some of the largest investment firms in the world,” Republican Rep. Bob Rommel said of the investment strategy he called “corporate activism.”
Democrats opposed the bill.
“We are talking about things that are not real — corporate activism,” Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby scoffed. “I don’t know what corporate activism is.”
The House also sent DeSantis a bill aimed at increasing the availability of affordable housing and boosting assistance programs for families looking for housing. While it largely received bipartisan support, some Democrats opposed it because it will also keep local governments from enacting rent control ordinances at a time when rents are climbing quickly.
On Thursday, the Legislature sent DeSantis a bill that expands the state's school voucher program to anyone. On Friday, the House passed a bill to allow concealed carry of guns without a permit for anyone legally allowed to own a gun — another DeSantis priority. The Senate is expected to pass the gun bill.
Lawmakers are also expected to pass bills soon to address illegal immigration and to ban abortion after six weeks of gestation, both DeSantis priorities.
Lawmakers often wait until the final week of session to resolve some of the most important policy issues as they negotiate details and trade votes. Not this year.
Even the bottom line of the state spending proposals presented by the House and Senate this week aren’t too far from the $115 million plan DeSantis outlined on Feb. 1. Lawmakers have plenty of time to get the budget done, unlike some recent years when lawmakers had to stay late or come back to finish the work.
“The slow pace of session,” Renner laughed Friday while talking about what's already been done in the first three weeks of the process.