POLITICO Florida Playbook: Florida GOP's culture wars session rolls on

Feb 03, 2022

BY GARY FINEOUT

Presented by Floridians for Affordable Rx


Good Thursday morning.

Politics 101 — It’s become a cliché, but former House Speaker John Thrasher summed it succinctly when Republicans first took control of the Florida Legislature: It’s all about the base.

Addendum — Let’s add another cliché into the mix as well: Elections have consequences.

Context — The GOP has been in firm control of Florida's government for more than two decades now — and there have been years when those in charge flexed their power to push through long sought-after conservative ideas. Democrats have complained and debated for hours but could do little to stop Republicans.

That’s history — But every now and then Democrats would score a victory when a bill got bogged down amid GOP hand-wringing as to whether some proposal went too far. Many times, sessions during an election year were designed to avoid contentious partisanship. That’s all gone.

Marching onward — Whether it’s a new 15-week abortion ban or bills dealing with “wokeness” and immigration, Republicans are grinding ahead with little regard to Democratic protests or fervent speeches. Example: A request that the Senate include an exemption for rape and incest in the abortion legislation was soundly rejected on Wednesday.

A legal matter — It doesn’t matter if some of the bills at hand might have constitutional problems. State Sen. Tina Polsky put it this way in committee this week: "We can't keep passing unconstitutional laws one after another after another.” Well, to paraphrase another Republican legislator — yes they can.

Track record — Several bills passed last session by legislators got waylaid and bogged down in courts, including the "anti-riot" bill, a cap on donations to citizen initiatives, a ban on vaccine passports and so on. But urged on by Gov. Ron DeSantis — and aware of changes in both the U.S. Supreme Court and state Supreme Court — legislators are at it again this year.

Not far enough? — If anything, the complaint from some right-wing Republicans is that the Legislature isn’t listening enough to the GOP base and taking up, say, a bill to allow open carry of guns in Florida. But there will be still plenty for Republicans to tout on the campaign trail in the months ahead.

— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.

Have a tip, story, suggestion, birthday, anniversary, new job, or any other nugget for Playbook? Get in touch: gfineout@politico.com

MORE:

CALLING OUT THE MOUSE — “ Top state lawmaker claims Disney could run afoul of ‘anti-woke’ law,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Katie Rice: “State Rep. Bryan Ávila, a top leader of the Florida House, is claiming that Disney employees’ diversity training program includes exercises where employees complete a 'white privilege checklist,' which could put the company in violation of a new law he’s sponsoring. Ávila’s office did not respond Wednesday when asked for the source of his information, but it appears to come from a conservative magazine that obtained a document and information purportedly from Disney employees in May. Disney has previously said elements of its employee diversity, equity and inclusion program were taken out of context.”

‘A LITTLE BIT OF GRACE’— “Florida Senate rejects rape and incest exemption for 15-week abortion ban,” by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian: Before the committee advanced the bill, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book filed an amendment that would have added exceptions for victims of rape, incest and human trafficking. Book said during the meeting that those exemptions would provide women more time to make important decisions as they process trauma. “Until you’ve walked in our shoes you simply don’t understand,” said Book, who was sexually assaulted as a child. “All this amendment is asking for is more time to give these women a little bit of grace.”

Response — State Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), who sponsored the Senate bill, countered by claiming that only a few of the more than 75,000 abortions performed last year in Florida were the result of incest, and only 14 were due to rape. She also claimed that human trafficking victims usually undergo abortions well within the 15-week time frame so they can resume working. “This amendment does nothing to solve all of the problems that we all find awful,” Stargel said.

SPROWLS DOESN’T WANT TO PLAY BALL — It’s not gotten a lot of attention inside the Florida Capitol, but fervent supporters of college football want the state to revamp the new state law over name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation for student athletes. The current law was passed before the NCAA suspended its rules, meaning that Florida now has restrictions not in place in other states.

Evening it out — Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, is one of two Republican legislators who filed a bill that would tweak Florida’s NIL law. “We’re looking to make sure we’re on a level playing ground with other states,” LaMarca told Playbook last month. LaMarca said he discussed his legislation with the majority of Florida universities before he filed it.

Brush back pitch — But LaMarca’s bill (HB 939) and the Senate version have gone nowhere during the first month of session. And House Speaker Chris Sprowls suggested on Wednesday it’s a low priority and said he was “not super excited about the topic.” He said that “to a certain extent it’s like a race to bottom in college sports. Like how many sports cars can we put in the hands of 18-year olds?”

Response — There was some negative reaction online to Sprowls comments. Dillan Gibbons, who was an offensive lineman with the Florida State University Seminoles last season, asked that Sprowls give him and LaMarca “an opportunity to change your mind.” "#HB939 evens the playing field for FL’s student athletes, maintains statutory protections for our essential rights, and ensures FL remains on the cutting edge of #NIL nationwide!" Gibbons tweeted.

GRADING ON A CURVE? — “Florida House gets to work on K-12 testing overhaul,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: Similar to the plan moving through the Senate, the House bill pledges to give parents and teachers faster feedback on student performance while reducing how much time students are tested in schools — both priorities of Gov. Ron DeSantis. House members, though, added new wrinkles to their proposal during an education committee Wednesday that could make it harder for schools to earn top performance marks from the state, something that Democrats argued may hurt campuses in the long run.

SPEAKING UP — “ Black lawmakers in FL navigate in a largely white Legislature; tensions erupt in committee meetings,” by Florida Phoenix’s Isaac Morgan: “A coalition of Black lawmakers in Florida continues to grapple with an unsettling climate: Attacks on voting rights, concerns about blocking students from learning historical events and bomb threats on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including private institutions in Florida. Tensions have erupted from Black legislators over legislation that would limit how students learn about race in America, leading to outbursts in the Florida House from both state Reps. Ramon Alexander and Kevin Chambliss.”

— “ Cubans who arrived through ‘Operation Pedro Pan’ oppose DeSantis immigration orders,” by Miami Herald’s Bianca Padro’ Ocasio

— “ Florida House passes bill to make nursing homes more financially transparent,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Hannah Critchfield and Kirby Wilson

— “ Florida House OKs bill to protect lottery winners privacy ,” by The Associated Press

— “DeSantis announces $89 million for workforce education,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Divya Kumar

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