Elections and Politics Policy Brief #34 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | April 28, 2022
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Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been making headlines once again for a series of controversial bills that have been signed into law in the sunshine state. Policies ranging from House Bill 1557 or as opponents call it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, the “Stop Woke Act”, and a new Florida election police force, demonstrate that DeSantis has sped up his increasingly authoritarian style of governing.
This month the highly controversial, “Don’t Say Gay” bill was signed into law, its aim is to limit LGBTQ discussion in schools. The law bans instruction or classroom discussion on LGBTQ issues for students in kindergarten through third grade. Sex education is already been banned in Florida (as in many states) until the fifth grade. The bill could also take away a school’s ability to serve students who might not feel comfortable talking to their parents about their gender orientation or sexuality.
Gay rights groups have sued the state of Florida over the law, arguing that it violates the constitutionally protected right to free speech, equal protection, and due process of students. After much outcry, Disney one of Florida’s most powerful companies also spoke out in opposition to the law, DeSantis responded by passing a law stripping the special tax status the company enjoyed in the state for the past 50 years.
Governor DeSantis in mid-April 2022, signed a bill banning abortions in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bill makes Florida the latest Republican-led state to advance new bans on access to abortion for women. States have jumped to begin creating their own bans on abortion as a Supreme Court decision on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban nears. In total, 23 states have now passed laws that would clamp down on abortion access should the Supreme Court rewrite abortion law or even overturn Roe v. Wade. Even if the Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t completely overturn the constitutional right to abortion, but allows Mississippi’s 15-week ban to stand, we can expect another wave of anti-choice legislation next year.
The “Stop Woke Act” bill which is set to go into effect July 1, 2022, is aimed at limiting how schools, colleges, and businesses discuss the issues of race, sexism, and privilege. The bill is a response to the Republican Party’s outrage over critical race theory. The law prohibits workplace training or school instruction that teaches that individuals are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously”; that people are privileged or oppressed based on race, gender, or national origin; or that a person “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” over actions committed by members of the same race, gender, or national origin in the past. The law states that such trainings or teachings amount to discrimination.
Most recently, on April 25, 2022, DeSantis signed a sweeping voting rights overhaul bill that establishes a new election police force. The new police force would give his administration a new way to probe election crimes. This move has made Florida one of the first states to enact such a move on election fraud. Election fraud is an increasingly rare occurrence, yet it is something that has become an animating issue for Republicans and former President Donald Trump who claim that the 2020 election was stolen.
DeSantis is up for reelection as governor this year and is considering a 2024 presidential run. His actions are clearly an attempt to make headlines, and build his credentials with the far-right voting base that now constitutes the majority of the republican party. The more controversial the bill, the more time he is given in the spotlight. The Florida governor has shown little interest in governing in an effective manner and instead consistently proposes and passes bills which feed into the culture war narratives being pushed by the Republican party at any given time.
Each of the bills are facing challenges in courts, but this has done nothing to slow DeSantis’ push towards an authoritarian style of rule in Florida. A style of rule where he alone has the power to ban anything from discussion of LGBTQ issues, to the Walt Disney company’s special tax status, to possible election outcomes that he feels are not in his favor. The new laws passed will certainly be harmful and effect those already most marginalized in society namely, people of color, those in the LGBTQ community, and women. To DeSantis they may seem more like a small sacrifice in order to win the favor of the republican base and secure political power for himself.
Photo taken from: The New York Times
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