Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has leaned heavily on the Florida legislature this session to give him a launchpad for a 2024 presidential bid, which he is expected to announce in the coming weeks.
Most recently, Republican lawmakers, who have supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, have moved to protect DeSantis from Florida’s exhaustive reporting requirements, shielding his dealings as governor from public scrutiny.
Republicans in the state Senate passed legislation that would eliminate the requirements to report his official travel and meeting logs. Florida Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat from Jacksonville, said that’s designed to conceal his absence from Florida as he prepares to go on the campaign trail. In March and April, he had 21 days of scheduled travel, including for an international trade mission to Japan and Israel to shore up his foreign policy credentials. “Floridians deserve someone who’s going to be here and who’s going to govern our state,” she said.
The state Senate has also passed legislation to relax campaign finance reporting requirements for state political committees, which currently disclose their fundraising figures monthly. DeSantis’s state political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, has almost $86 million in its coffers and raised roughly $3.7 million in March. Under the new bill, that committee would have to report on just a quarterly basis.
Both of those bills are going before the state House, which is expected to pass them.
And the legislature is expected to move forward with legislation that explicitly allows DeSantis to run for president without having to resign from his position as governor, as may have been required by current Florida law. With the legislature scheduled to adjourn May 5, it’s running out of time to do so and will likely attach the measure to a larger elections package.
DeSantis’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
These bills on their own will likely have minimal impact on DeSantis’s campaign, but they show how DeSantis, with the cooperation of his Republican allies, has been able to set the agenda this session in a way that serves his ambitions for higher office.
“Because of Republican supermajorities in both the House and the Senate and the lack of courage or principle in either house, the Florida legislature is completely in thrall to DeSantis,” said Mac Stipanovich, a former Republican consultant in Florida who endorsed Joe Biden in 2020. “It’s embarrassing for the legislature and the antithesis of good government.”
The Florida legislature has been doing DeSantis’s bidding
In addition to the actions taken to protect DeSantis and his seat as governor, the Florida legislature has been working this session to give him the conservative record he needs to win the 2024 Republican nomination.
DeSantis enacted a six-week abortion ban in the state despite the fact that it’s unpopular with a big majority of Florida voters. It would effectively ban almost all abortions since most people don’t know they’re pregnant at that point and Florida law requires two in-person doctor visits with a 24-hour waiting period in between before a patient can obtain an abortion.
DeSantis made Florida the 26th state to adopt permitless carry, appeasing gun rights advocates. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a permit or without undergoing training under some restrictions. Previously, gun owners applying for a permit to carry a concealed weapon were required to undergo a background check, fingerprinting, and training, and to demonstrate competency by firing a gun in front of an instructor.
A March University of Florida survey found that those measures are even unpopular with Republicans in the state, suggesting that DeSantis is playing more toward a national audience. More than 60 percent opposed both the permitless carry bill and the six-week abortion ban (though the survey did not specify that the bill included exceptions for rape and incest).
DeSantis’s crusade against LGBTQ rights, the subject of his ongoing war with Disney, has also continued with the Florida House passing a bill that would allow the state to take a child away from their parents if they have been “subjected to or [are] threatened with being subjected to” gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers or hormone treatments.
The list goes on with legislative attacks on faculty tenure, freedom of the press, young and minority voters, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at universities, and more.
Meanwhile, Rep. Nixon said that Florida Republicans haven’t done enough to address the state’s property insurance crisis, despite passing an overhaul of the system in December, and its critical teacher shortage.
“The majority of these bills, unfortunately, have been put forth as red meat to his base,” she said. “He’s creating these culture wars because he wants to use these talking points during his presidential campaign.”