Legislature declares victory after badly failing Floridians | Editorial

Legislature declares victory after badly failing Floridians | Editorial

At the behest of lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis Floridia lost ground on abortion, guns, school vouchers, LGBTQ freedom, open government and more.

    House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, chat at the rostrum after a joint session for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State speech Tuesday, March 7, 2023 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
    Phil Sears/AP House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, chat at the rostrum after a joint session for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State speech Tuesday, March 7, 2023 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)


    May 7, 2023 at 5:27 a.m.

    It’s over.

    The best that can be said about Friday’s finish of the 2023 legislative session is that it has ended.

    Senators and representatives packed up and headed home, where most can no longer do more damage to Florida citizens. But the misery will continue as Gov. Ron DeSantis gleefully signs into law the many harmful, hateful or wrongheaded decisions made by his fellow Republicans over the past nine weeks.

    Floridians, their kids and grandchildren will feel the effects for a long time. The ramifications are grave. But such are the consequences in a state that no longer has a competitive two-party system at the state level, and where far too many lawmakers unquestioningly rubber stamp a far-right agenda fashioned mostly by an authoritarian, ambitious and secretive governor.

    Less safe and less free

    Floridians will be less safe. Women will be less free.

    Legislators approved a near-total ban on abortion after six weeks, when many women don’t even know they are pregnant (SB 300).It’s now legal in Florida to carry a loaded and concealed gun with no permit or training (HB 543).

    Lawmakers approved a universal taxpayer-funded school voucher program (HB 1) that will wreak havoc on a public school system that for too long has been chronically underfunded by both parties.

    They made it easier to impose the death penalty than any state in the U.S. and allowed for the death penalty to be imposed on child rapists when the victim is under age 12 (HB 1297). The law won wide approval from members of both parties and will look good in a political mailer but is of dubious constitutionality. The 19 Democrats who voted no showed courage, because some will surely be vilified as “soft on crime” in the next election.

    A lot less sunshine

    This was a terrible session for weakening Florida’s “sunshine” laws, as legislators draped a dangerous and senselessly retroactive cloak of secrecy over official travel by the governor and other top state officials. They made claims of supposed threats against DeSantis that have not been substantiated. The governor goes everywhere closely surrounded by a half-dozen FDLE agents.

    Lawmakers also handed the law-and-order governor an expanded Florida State Guard, a state militia under his personal control.

    In a mean-spirited attack against public sector workers, they gutted union protections for teachers, 911 dispatchers and other front-line employees.

    They did nothing to provide meaningful relief for property insurance policyholders and instead made it harder for them to sue companies that refuse to pay claims.

    For the third year in a row, they attacked democracy by further weakening state election laws. They made it so financially risky for third-party organizations to register voters that many threaten to stop the practice —  the Republicans’ objective all along.

    They imposed new regulations on use of bathrooms and pronouns and imposed a ludicrous crackdown on drag shows — acts of oppression that stifle artistic expression, criminalize gender-affirming care and encourage more bullying and discrimination against already-marginalized groups.

    What they got right

    Did lawmakers do anything right over the past 60 days? Yes.

    They passed a record-high $117 billion budget with nearly universal bipartisan harmony, which was unusual enough in itself in Tallahassee’s hyper-partisan bubble, but Democrats praised Republicans for even-handedness and the budget came together without the trench warfare that tarnished previous sessions.

    The budget has 5% pay increases for rank-and-file state workers, salary hikes for assistant public defenders, assistant state attorneys and correctional officers, $1,000 bonuses for police officers, more money to acquire environmentally sensitive lands and other initiatives.

    With so much money floating around, they could easily have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But they refused, preserving Florida’s status as an outlier state that neglects the well-being of its residents. Only nine other states refuse to expand Medicaid.

    Showing more bipartisan cooperation, they voted to expand eligibility under Florida KidCare and Healthy Kids, which will help more than 40,000 children obtain affordable coverage. More positives: a stronger law to combat human sex trafficking, in response to the Sun Sentinel series Innocence Sold, and later start times for Florida middle and high schools.

    Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, took a welcome stand for public safety. After the House voted 69 to 36 to repeal a key provision of the post-Parkland gun law and allow immature and troubled 18-year-olds to buy rifles and long guns, Passidomo refused to consider it in the Senate, and it died. There’s nothing to celebrate here except the rarity of a Republican leader breaking with her own party for a change.

    “I voted for the Parkland bill,” said Passidomo, who visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas days after the massacre five years ago. “It was a horrific day. I will not change my position.”

    A changed Capitol, for the worse

    Sun Sentinel opinion writers have watched every session for the past 35 years, and this must be said: Florida no longer has a traditional bipartisan Legislature where people of good intentions and different beliefs come together and work cooperatively to improve the state.

    The political agenda and outcome is all preordained. Citizens who openly challenge the system risk being arrested, as 14 were this week in the Capitol.

    In its current form, hopefully temporarily, it has evolved into a partisan political arm of DeSantis’ presidential campaign.

    The vastly outnumbered Democrats, led by their caucus leaders, Sen. Lauren Book, D-Davie, and Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, fought valiantly most of the time against impossible odds. We implore Democrats to stick together and to hold Republicans more accountable.

    People increasingly talk about leaving this state because of policies that show outright contempt for women, the LGBTQ community and others. The former Miami Heat basketball star Dwyane Wade, a Hall of Famer and one of the most popular pro athletes in South Florida history, who has a transgender daughter, disclosed that he moved his family to California because they no longer feel accepted in Florida.

    As events drew to a close Friday, a celebratory House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, called it “a session like no other.”

    That’s true — but for all the wrong reasons.

    The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board includes Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson, Opinion Editor Krys Fluker and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney and Anderson. Send letters to insight@orlandosentinel.com.

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