Legislature focused on cultural issues to advance DeSantis' personal political agenda

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Florida lawmakers have been busy. Their regular session (ending in March) was preoccupied with fighting the culture wars, arming Gov. Ron DeSantis with the hard-core credentials he needs to appeal to the GOP base and launch a 2024 presidential run.

Then, in April, the governor called a special session to adopt his own map of Florida’s congressional districts. He didn’t like the map already approved by the Legislature, because it didn’t give Republicans a big enough advantage.

That session ended with the governor also demanding, and GOP lawmakers acquiescing in, a legislative hit-job on Disney World, stripping Florida’s top tourist attraction of its special tax district, created more than 50 years ago. Why now, you ask? That’s easy, it was a way for DeSantis to get even with Disney for speaking out against his notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

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While all of this self-serving legislating was taking place, a real crisis had been building for years: the near meltdown of Florida’s home insurance market. According to the Insurance Information Institute, Floridians face skyrocketing property insurance premiums, up 25% or more, on average, from 2020 to 2021. And that’s if they can even get insurance (with policies being dropped at an alarming rate and some insurers facing insolvency or leaving the state).

Not to worry. The governor simply orders yet another special session (a couple days in late May) to fix everything. Not exactly. Indeed, what was rushed through looks more like a temporary rescue for insurers and little for homeowners.

The foregoing legislative missteps are about to be overshadowed by an even bigger calamity for Floridians. That’s because governor DeSantis recently promised swift legislative action to enact a so-called “constitutional carry” gun rights bill — perhaps in a third special session, convened for maximum impact ahead of November elections.

Under “constitutional carry” (a totally concocted concept with no “constitutional” underpinning), Florida residents would be allowed to carry guns (concealed or visibly) almost anywhere, without any kind of license, training or registration. It’s what the gun lobby and Second Amendment extremists most salivate over, as it would almost certainly end any hope for meaningful gun “control” in Florida.

There’s more to come, of course, but the legacy of recent Florida legislatures has been firmly established: an over-zealous concentration on cultural issues to advance the personal political agenda of the governor.

Thus, we have a law banning sanctuary cities (when none exist); a law targeting critical race theory (when nothing of the sort is even taught); a law creating an “elite” election police force (when no election abuses have been shown); and a law seeking to silence classroom discussion of sexual orientation (when the subject is, mostly, a non-issue).

Most recently, DeSantis signed a law making it illegal to protest or picket outside a person’s “dwelling” — even though the incidents cited by DeSantis as justifying the law occurred in Washington, D.C., not Florida. While the bill’s sponsor (Gainesville’s Keith Perry) cites a few isolated incidents in Florida (involving some school board members and Florida’s two U.S. senators), there’s no question that this law fits the same pattern.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Miami's Freedom Tower on May 9.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Miami's Freedom Tower on May 9.

What’s the looming danger? Why aren’t existing laws sufficient?  

While the new law defines different kinds of “dwellings” to be “protected,” it fails to define what’s “off limits” or spell out what specific activities are banned. Instead, it appears to establish a total ban on just being near a protected dwelling (regardless of proximity); declaring, simply, that any protest or picket “before or about the dwelling,” with an “intent to harass or disturb,” is illegal (which, seemingly, would ban just walking by, silently, carrying a sign).

Who, in power, decides who needs protection, and under what conditions? In my view, this vague, overly broad “protection” of certain people from peaceful speech, solely because it might make them uncomfortable, is the antithesis of an open democracy.

We don’t shut out or shut down uncomfortable expressions of public views (whether they are right or wrong, or come from the left or the right). Trespass, noise ordinances and public disturbance laws should be sufficient to calm down or break-up protests that become unruly — whether it involves two people or 200 (the new law bans both).

Carl Ramey
Carl Ramey

In the end, however, it’s all about being tough on protesters (of a certain kind) to score political points.

Carl Ramey, a retired Washington communications attorney and monthly columnist for The Sun, lives in Gainesville.

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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Carl Ramey: Focus on cultural issues for DeSantis' political benefit