DeSantis slaps legislators and Special Olympics; moves to police some gender ID
It’s Monday, June 6, and interviews begin today for the next Supreme Court justice; there are two weeks left for prospective candidates to decide if they’re going to run for state office, and evidence is mounting that Florida’s governor has decided that policing “gender ideology” has emerged as a top state priority.
WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT
$3 billion slap-down: As the state’s top Republican leaders stood behind him on a stage in The Villages last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced more than $3 billion in budget vetoes, slashing top priorities of Republican leaders while passing a record state budget built on record revenues. Among the vetoes was about $30 million for 43 proposed South Florida projects and pet projects chosen by the House speaker, Senate president and the Senate’s top budget chair.
The budget does include big pay raises for state workers, bonuses for teachers, record tax breaks and enough for new initiatives aimed at leaving the governor’s ideological mark on his elections, immigration and education priorities.
Punishing cuts: Some of the cuts seems intended to punish. The governor vetoed $35 million for a youth sports complex in Odessa that had been earmarked as a potential future spring training site for the Tampa Bay Rays. The veto came a week after the team called for action on gun safety laws in the wake of the Uvalde mass shooting. The reason for axing this stadium subsidy (despite stadium subsidies already in law), DeSantis said: it would not have been a “prudent use” of tax dollars and “it’s also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation.”
Less than a month before Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban goes into effect, the governor also vetoed $2 million meant to help low-income people access long-acting birth control.
Fines for Special Olympics: After Special Olympics International imposed a vaccine requirement for more than 5,000 participants in its USA Games being held in Orlando this week, the Florida Department of Health said it was going to charge the organization nearly $30 million for violating the anti-vaccine mandate DeSantis created last year.
In the face of the fines, the organization canceled the vaccine requirement.
At a news conference with the governor to tout the victory, Florida Surgeon General Joe Ladapo continued to conflate COVID transmission with illness prevention. He said vaccines provide “basically zero protection from infection,” ignoring the studies that show that while vaccines often cannot prevent transmission from becoming infected, they have been shown to be highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 among those who get it.
Judge do-over? This week the judicial nominating commission for the Florida Supreme Court interviews the 17 candidates who have applied to replace Justice Alan Lawson, who will retire on Aug. 31. Although Lawson filled the spot on the bench reserved from someone from the Central Florida appellate district, that place was filled when DeSantis named Justice Jamie Grosshans in 2020.
Now, the JNC tells us, they consider the Lawson position an at-large seat. That leaves room for the governor do get a do-over and again appoint Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Renatha Francis. Two years ago, the Florida Supreme Court delivered DeSantis a hard blow when it unanimously ruled that Francis, who he wanted to appoint to the state’s high court, didn’t qualify because she had not been a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years, as state law requires. Enough time has now passed and many expect that this time, Francis will get the nod.
Grieco out: Qualifying for statewide and legislative office begins on June 11 and the battlefield already has casualties. Last week, state Rep. Michael Grieco, a Democrat from Miami Beach, announced he was dropping his bid for Senate District 36 because of a lack of resources. That now leaves Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia running unopposed in the new district, which has been reshaped to include parts of liberal Miami Beach.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Crist gets teacher’s union: U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist last week received the backing of the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, over his Democratic rivals Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Miami state Sen. Annette Taddeo.
Gender police: Two weeks ago, DeSantis held a news conference with Christopher Rufo, a writer at the center right Manhattan Institute who helped spark the right’s crusade against critical race theory. He now is getting national attention for accusing schools of pushing gender ideology and the governor’s Agency for Health Care Administration is taking notice.
AHCA asked the state medical board to draft new policies that would likely restrict gender dysphoria treatments for transgender youth and prevent Medicaid for covering them. In a report released last week, the agency claimed that puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and sex reassignment surgery have not been proven safe or effective in treating gender dysphoria.
It’s a position that some 300 other medical professionals, including the governor’s first surgeon general, argue “misrepresents the weight of the evidence, does not allow for personalized patient and family-centered care, and would, if followed, lead to higher rates of youth depression and suicidality.” But it also opens the door for the governor to enact a rule that would ban Medicaid coverage for transgender people of any age.
Tweaks for school safety: As Congress continues work on building a consensus to pass modest gun reform legislation, this may be the week that the governor signs a bill to tweak Florida’s answer to school shootings. The bill passed unanimously during the regular session of the Legislature because it doesn’t change Florida gun laws. Instead, it keeps the focus on hardening schools and training school personnel and police to single out potential shooters.
Biden pleas: A day after a gunman armed with high capacity assault weapons shot up a medical office in Tulsa, President Joe Biden implored Congress to take action against gun violence that was turning classrooms, grocery stores and office buildings into “killing fields.”
Local concerns: Meanwhile, in Miami, a Parkland activist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried joined about 50 people outside Sen. Marco Rubio’s Miami office last week in an attempt to pressure the Republican lawmaker to sit down and talk about gun safety.
Former Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell hosted a roundtable discussion in Coral Gables on gun violence as part of a small group of concerned parents and community members. The group discussed gun reform, including banning AR-15-style rifles, education on gun violence and universal background checks.
And Aventura Democratic Rep. Steve Geller sent a letter to the Florida Secretary of State last week asking for a special session to adopt legislation imposing a universal background check, limits on high capacity ammunition, and stricter red flag laws. It’s unlikely to win the governor’s approval.
When protesters interrupted an Orlando event he was having with conservative talk show host Dave Rubin, DeSantis quipped: “Nobody wants to hear from you.”
Court won’t enter redistricting fight: The Florida Supreme Court last week declined to jump into the congressional redistricting fight, leaving in place a lower-court decision that set the controversial map that DeSantis pushed through the Legislature as the map to be used in the November election.
Conservative radio gets new owner: Radio Mambi, a fixture of South Florida’s conservative Cuban community, is getting two new Democrat-leaning owners. Two Latina entrepreneurs — backed by a slew of investors — have negotiated a $60 million deal with TelevisaUnivision to buy 18 Spanish-language radio stations across 10 U.S. cities.
Co-founder Stephanie Valencia worked at the White House under former President Barack Obama as a special assistant to the president and principal deputy director of public engagement. He is launching Latino Media Network along with Jess Morales Rocketto, the former director of civic engagement for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Trump does Latin TV: During a prime-time interview with the Miami Spanish-language station, MegaTV last week, former President Donald Trump bragged about his gains with Hispanic voters in Miami in the 2020 election and slammed the Biden administration over its recent policy shifts in Cuba and Venezuela. The interview was conducted by former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado from Mar-a-Lago and was dubbed in Spanish.
Insurance law challenged: Less than a week after Florida lawmakers rushed to make property-insurance changes, a contractors group Tuesday filed a constitutional challenge that targets a new restriction on attorney fees in “assignment of benefits” cases. The Restoration Association of Florida and Air Quality Assessors, LLC, an Orlando firm that does work such as mold testing and leak detection, filed the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court.
Abortion law challenged: Several Florida Planned Parenthood chapters and individual abortion providers filed a lawsuit last week challenging Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban, arguing the law violates Florida’s constitutional privacy clause, which has been interpreted for the past several decades as protecting access to abortion.
Darkness in Hallandale Beach: Although Broward County officials accused Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper of having committed “knowing” violations of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law by attending more than two dozen meetings held without public notice and refusing to turn over the nonprofit’s financial documents, prosecutors decided not to charge her with criminal Sunshine Law violations.
Eye doctor acquitted: It was a rare loss for the U.S. Attorney’s Office but prominent South Florida ophthalmologist Dr. Lauren Rosecan was found not guilty of falsely diagnosing patients with malignant eye cancer and billing the federal Medicare program for unnecessary treatments.
New clues about Surfside cries: It is a mystery that has hung over the aftermath of the Surfside disaster: Who was the woman who cried out from rubble for hours but could not be saved? Rescuers were unable to reach the woman, but a new report indicates that Miami-Dade Fire Rescue believes that the woman was Theresa Velasquez, a 36-year-old music industry executive, who had been visiting her parents from California and arrived just hours before the collapse, which would ultimately claim 98 lives.
Esserman-Knight awards: The journalists behind “House of Cards,” the Miami Herald’s forensic investigation into the collapse of Champlain Towers South, took first place at the annual Esserman-Knight Journalism Awards last week. The annual award is funded by the Esserman family in cooperation with the Knight Foundation to highlight excellence in South Florida journalism. Herald reporters Jacqueline Charles received an honorable mention for her work on Assassination of Haiti’s President and Mary Ellen Klas received an honorable mention for her investigation into Florida Power & Light. Journalists from WLRN and the South Florida Sun Sentinel were also recognized.
Thank you: Miami Herald Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curates the Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State newsletter. We appreciate our readers and if you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at email@example.com.
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