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It’s not unusual for governors to veto legislation. But no governor has used his veto pen with the same poise and purpose as Ron DeSantis. That purpose has not only been to occasionally do the right thing, but to show fellow Republicans in the Legislature who’s boss.
In his latest round of vetoes last week, DeSantis sounded the death knell for another priority of legislative leaders. It was a win for a governor establishing himself as the omnipresent figure in state politics. It was also a win for taxpayers and local governments at risk of paying for expensive litigation.
Senate Bill 620 would’ve neutered the ability of cities and counties to govern themselves. The legislation allowed some businesses to sue local governments to recover lost profits for up to seven years if the the loss was a result of a local ordinance or citizen initiative.
This “pro-business” legislation was so vague it would open the floodgates for frivolous lawsuits — a consequence DeSantis hinted at in his veto message. Local governments could be on the hook for up to $900 million annually, potentially driving taxes up for citizens and the same businesses the bill was supposed to protect, according to Florida TaxWatch.
“The broad and ambiguous language of the bill will lead to both unintended and unforeseen consequences and costly litigation,’’ DeSantis wrote.
This bill was the dream come true of economic interests that have lobbied Tallahassee to stop local governments from regulating everything from cruises, to sunscreen, to natural gas hook-ups, plastic straws and single-use plastic bags. It would have effectively killed many local environmental ordinances and even efforts to regulate bar hours and stop the sale of pets from unscrupulous puppy mills. That’s why the governor’s office tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to exempt regulations that support animal welfare.
Some may rightly see the irony in DeSantis vetoing SB 620 after spending the past year attacking and curtailing local governments’ ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, he’s prohibited them from imposing mask mandates. DeSantis, for his part, wrote, “The better approach is to enact targeted preemption legislation” instead of a blanket preemption like SB 620.
As principled as DeSantis may be, he’s also calculating. This is the fourth time DeSantis spurned Senate President Wilton Simpson by killing part of his legislative agenda.
DeSantis previously vetoed a bill pushed by Simpson and Florida Power & Light that would have curbed the expansion of rooftop solar energy. He nixed part of the $331 million in agricultural projects Simpson tried to include in the state budget — and which he would control if elected agriculture commissioner this fall. The governor also vetoed another Simpson-backed bill that would have forced the state to give farmers priority access to water from Lake Okeechobee. DeSantis and environmentalists say the bill would hurt Everglades restoration, a priority he campaigned on in 2018.
This could be the governor sticking to his campaign promises. But it’s also a message to lawmakers who don’t fall in line.
Earlier this year, Simpson and the House speaker balked at DeSantis’ attempt to force them to pass a congressional redistricting map that favored Republicans. DeSantis vetoed the map lawmakers approved, forcing them to go back to Tallahassee to approve his plan. Politico reported in February that tensions were high between DeSantis and Simpson over the Senate’s reluctance to pass the governor’s high-profile priorities.
DeSantis is on a mission to shape Florida to his liking, as any governor would, and he’s on track to exert power like no other governor before him. Rogue lawmakers and opponents will either be tamed — or crushed.