TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — There are two things the Legislature must tackle in the 60-day session that begins Tuesday: pass a massive state budget and redraw political maps.
But as Florida heads toward the 2022 election, the session will largely be shaped by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ agenda, which includes banning critical race theory from schools and workplaces, creating a state office to investigate voter fraud and an enormous budget with gifts for teachers, first responders and drivers.
More than 3,000 bills have been filed ahead of session, most of which won’t become law. And unlike most years, the House and Senate leaders are largely quiet about their priorities.
“It’s kind of like the trifecta of crazy. You have an election year, you have a reapportionment year and … you have a very strong governor right now,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection in November and is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024, hasn’t been quiet about his agenda, which is a mix of feeding his conservative base and proposals with widespread appeal.
Much of what he’s proposing looks similar to former President Donald Trump’s agenda: preventing undocumented immigrants from being located in Florida, setting up an agency to investigate voting fraud despite little evidence it’s a widespread problem and trying to squash the ideas behind critical race theory.
“I definitely believe there’s more of a DeSantis agenda that I have seen and heard more than an agenda coming from the leaders of the two chambers, which worries me,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones. “It’s strictly Ron DeSantis’ agenda, and not Florida’s agenda.”
DeSantis wants a law banning schools from teaching critical race theory and allowing parents to sue if they do. He also wants to allow employees to be able to sue employers who use critical race theory as part of their training.
Critical race theory is a decades-old concept that holds that American institutions are still systemically racist despite the removal of structural barriers during the Civil Rights era. Conservatives say it divides society by defining people as oppressors and oppressed based on their race, and that it teaches white people to believe they are inherently racist.
“We believe that this corporate CRT, it’s basically corporate sanctioned racism and they’re trying to shove it down these employees’ throats,” DeSantis said during a recent press conference. “We believe that violates the Florida civil rights laws.”
DeSantis also wants legislation that would prohibit state agencies from providing any benefits to undocumented immigrants. It also would prohibit state and local agencies from doing business with any private entities that help people who illegally crossed the southern U.S. border resettle in Florida.
And despite previously saying Florida’s 2020 election went smoothly, and with no evidence of widespread voting fraud, DeSantis wants nearly $6 million to create a new law enforcement office dedicated to investigating election fraud.
While the House and Senate are still weeks away from releasing their state spending proposals, DeSantis is requesting a nearly $100 billion budget. The proposal includes $1,000 bonuses for teachers and first responders and a five-month gas tax holiday that DeSantis says will save drivers $1 billion.
While Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls may not be talking much about what they want out of the session, the Republican leaders have incentive to help carry out DeSantis’ goals to help his reelection.
Lawmakers will also take up the once-in-a-decade task of drawing new political maps. Because of population growth, Florida will gain one more seat in Congress. While the state constitution calls for the districts to be drawn in a way that doesn’t favor a candidate or party, House and Senate proposed maps are drawn in a way that would make the new 28th district a likely win for Republicans.
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