ORLANDO, Fla. – Now in his fifth year as Florida governor, Ron DeSantis will have signed close to 1,000 bills by the time he is done with the 2023 legislative session’s measures.
It’s tough to pick a handful of laws that DeSantis has championed and say these are the most impactful when there are so many. Abortion, elections, immigration, education — his fingerprints are on bills in all these areas. Sometimes the bills make a big splash, sometimes they are one step in a chain that leads to fundamental change.
As DeSantis gears up for his presidential run, here are five laws we think made a fundamental difference in Florida.
This year DeSantis signed a bill to ban abortions after six weeks. The signing came without the big ceremony DeSantis is known for. He signed it quietly, at midnight in his office with no one present to see it.
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The situation was much different a year ago when DeSantis signed the bill’s predecessor, HB 5. That signing ceremony had pomp and circumstances and speeches from women wanting to protect the rights of the unborn at an evangelical church in Kissimmee.
HB 5 banned abortion after 15 weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Before the law, Florida allowed abortions up to 24 weeks.
“This will represent the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation,” DeSantis said as he signed the bill.
DeSantis defended the law at the time, saying it was reasonable and on par with what many European countries do — though most European countries have fewer restrictions and more exemptions.
Bills banning abortions had languished in the Florida Legislature for years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, or at least the belief that it would happen, was a key component in finally getting an abortion ban over the line in 2022.
But it’s hard to believe that a six-week ban would have been possible without the 15-week ban.
DeSantis supported the six-week abortion ban this year but not at the same level as HB 5. He has had to defend his decision from the likes of former President Donald Trump.
“People are actually looking at Florida and asking the question, ‘Why can’t the states be more like Florida?’”
That’s what DeSantis said about Florida’s performance in the 2020 elections.
But the next year he and the Florida Legislature seemed to find room for improvement.
SB 90 was a priority for DeSantis in 2021, to tighten rules around drop boxes and voter registration. DeSantis said the bill provided guardrails against voter fraud.
The legislature followed that up with SB 524 in 2022. Aside from further tightening voter registration laws, that law created the Office of Election Crimes and Security, a way to investigate and prosecute those accused of voter fraud.
In touting the bill, DeSantis said the new “election police” would be there to handle fraud cases that local law enforcement officials were not equipped to handle.
The office made a big splash in August 2022 when DeSantis announced the arrests of 20 people across the state accused of voter fraud related to Florida’s felon voting laws, including three people in Orange County.
A News 6 investigation discovered that people who were arrested felt misled by the voter registration application, and further thought it was OK because the election officials gave them voter information cards when they registered.
Some of those cases have subsequently been dropped, with judges saying the state did not have jurisdiction to arrest the people in the first place. The state legislature passed a bill to give the state that jurisdiction this year.
Learn more about the case of Peter Washington, a Florida man accused of voter fraud whose case was dropped:
Critics said all of the election bills in Florida were made to appease Republicans who question the outcome of the 2020 election and election systems in Florida, even though voter fraud remains rare across the country.
Parental Rights in Education
The campaign for more parental rights in their children’s education in Florida started with COVID-19.
DeSantis pushed legislation in 2021 that banned mask and vaccine requirements for COVID-19 in Florida’s schools, and gave parents the right to sue school districts over any COVID mandates.
The legislation was in response to a rallying cry from parents who were against COVID-19 mandates in schools.
That morphed into an effort to give parents more control over what happens at schools.
In 2022, that led to the Parental Rights in Education law.
“I think the last couple years have really revealed to parents that they are being ignored increasingly across our country when it comes to their kids’ education,” DeSantis said prior to the signing. “We have seen curriculum embedded for very, very young children — classroom materials about sexuality and woke gender ideology. We’ve seen libraries that have clearly inappropriate, pornographic materials for very young kids. And we’ve seen services that were given to students without the consent or even knowledge of their parents across the country and we — unfortunately, that’s happened here in the state of Florida.”
The law reinforces the “fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing and control of their children.”
Most of the time when you hear about this bill, it’s about the provisions that bar discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in class. That provision was originally meant for kindergarten through third-grade classes, and in upper grades where applicable. But in 2023 the state expanded that prohibition in the state legislature, and through the Florida Department of Education, to include older grades as well.
But the bill also includes a list of things that it required school districts to do. For instance, school districts are required to notify parents about health care services — forcing parents to opt-in if they want their child to receive any treatment at school. Schools are now required to tell parents about any student information that affects that student’s mental, emotional or physical well-being.
DeSantis said in 2022, before being re-elected, that he hoped to sign a permitless carry bill before he leaves the governor’s office.
The Florida Legislature obliged.
In 2023 DeSantis got to sign a permitless carry bill, which allows people in Florida to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. All they need is a driver’s license.
The law also means Floridians no longer need anything more than the background check they went through when they purchased their gun to carry a gun. This includes no required training classes.
The decision made Florida the 26th state in the country to allow permitless carry of concealed guns.
Vouchers for All
Florida’s school voucher program had incrementally expanded for years as lawmakers added ways to increase the number of students who could get vouchers through certain scholarship programs, or created new programs — like a program for students who had been bullied.
In 2023, DeSantis opened the floodgates.
HB 1 expands scholarships to private schools for all Florida families. There are priority thresholds for families that make certain incomes.
It makes Florida the fourth state in the nation to have universal school vouchers.
DeSantis said the law gives parents the right to choose the most appropriate education for their child.
Critics point to the cost of the program.
While a legislative analysis put the fiscal impact of the law at $209.6 million, the left-leaning Florida Policy Institute said the analysis does not take several factors into account, and the cost is closer to $4 billion.
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