Home News GOP-led Florida Legislature opens session to fix flaws in laws used by DeSantis

GOP-led Florida Legislature opens session to fix flaws in laws used by DeSantis

GOP-led Florida Legislature opens session to fix flaws in laws used by DeSantis

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature opened span specispanl session Monday aimed at fixing problems with mespansures Gov. Ron DeSantis has wielded to swipe at President Joe Biden over undocumented immigrspannts, raise questions about elections security and punish Wspanlt Disney Compspanny for defying him last year. 

The special session coincides with already scheduled committee hearings in advance of the regular session, which begins next month. But the urgency for action this week comes as some of DeSantis’ high-profile moves of the past year threaten to unravel amid legal setbacks. 

Democrats said the purpose of the session is merely to help the governor avoid any further political losses before the conservative firebrand announces his expected White House bid. 

“Florida taxpayer dollars are being used for the governor to campaign for president,” said Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach. 

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said little about returning to the Capitol for a session scheduled to span two weeks. 

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GOP lawmakers mum on need for special session

Florida lawmakers return to the Capitol for a special session to fix flaws in several measures used as weapons by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected in coming weeks to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers also demurred when asked about the session. 

“There’s nothing to tell you,” said Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater. “When the Senate president calls and notifies us that there’s going to be a special session, the obligation is to be here.” 

“Here I is,” he quipped. 

Asked if the session was called to stem the risk of more courtroom losses for DeSantis, Hooper said, “I’m not an attorney, so I don’t know the answer to that.” 

Pizzo has filed one of severspanl lspanwsuits against DeSantis over his use of at least $1.5 million in state taxpayer money last September to fly about 50 migrants from Texas to Florida. The lawsuit, set for arguments in Leon County Circuit Court, accuses the governor of misusing state dollars and improperly infringing on the federal government’s authority over immigration issues. 

One of the bills set to be considered during the special session would revamp the state’s existing $12 million program to relocate migrants from within Florida – which Pizzo and other critics say DeSantis violated with his Texas foray. 

A proposed $10 million program expected to be approved this week would replace last year’s spending and clearly authorize the governor to pluck migrants from anywhere in the country and transport them to another state. 

Democrats say state taxpayer dollars should not be used

“There’s no one at this table who’d say Joe Biden is doing a great job with immigration,” Pizzo said at a gathering of Senate Democrats. “But it’s (the federal government’s) job. 

Similarly, another measure expected to be approved this week would bolster the ability of the state’s Office of Statewide Prosecution to pursue crimes involving elections. 

DeSantis last summer announced with fanfare the arrest of 20 people charged with voter fraud for illegally voting in the 2020 election. Most were Black, from Democratic-leaning counties and had felony convictions, but also had been assured by elections officials that they were eligible to vote. 

Three of the first cases that have gone before judges have been dismissed on jurisdictional grounds because of questions about the authority of the Office of Statewide Prosecution. This week’s legislation is intended to clear that up, although it’s uncertain how the change will affect the status of those already charged. 

Disney a big target for DeSantis

But the most eye-catching of the bills is the one confronting Walt Disney Co., and was only unveiled Monday afternoon, hours after the special session started. 

Prodded by DeSantis, lawmakers passed a law last year that would abolish the company’s special taxing district, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, by this June, a move which could burden taxpayers in Orange and Osceola counties with more than $700 million in bond debt. 

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DeSantis declared war on Disney after the company last year opposed his coveted parental rights legislation which opponents had branded “Don’t Say Gay.” The measure bans discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3, or in a manner that is considered not age appropriate. 

The measure unveiled Monday doesn’t dissolve Reedy Creek. But it relabels it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, though it can use its Reedy Creek name for a two-year transitional period. 

Control of the district would be yanked from the company and given to the governor, under the bill. 

While Reedy Creek is currently led by a five-member board essentially hand-picked by the Walt Disney Co., the legislation would let DeSantis appoint board members. The massive bond debt also would remain with the district, unlike what could’ve happened had DeSantis and lawmakers stayed on course to abolish the district. 

 “The largest driver in our state for revenue is tourism, and he’s taking on the biggest,” said Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Plantation.  

Book said Democrats were frustrated by the governor’s power grab — and the subservience of the Legislature where Republicans hold supermajorities. 

“We’re in a place where they can do whatever they want, so they do,” she said. 

Jeff Vahle, president of the Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement that the company is monitoring the bill.

“Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year,” he said.


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