Do you really want to ‘make America Florida’? Under DeSantis, it’s a mean place

Florida, under Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican Legislature, is increasingly hard to recognize. It’s an intolerant and repressive place that bears scant resemblance to the Sunshine State of just a few years ago.

The 2023 legislative session cemented those appalling setbacks. Florida is now a state where government intrusion into the personal lives of Floridians is commonplace. What will it take for citizens to push back on this unprecedented encroachment on their rights? And, more broadly, what if Desantis supporters get what they want, which is to “make America Florida”?


The latest round of laws makes Florida sound more and more dystopian — something voters in the rest of the nation should note if they are considering what a DeSantis presidency could look like. The state has new rules for who can use which bathroom, what pronouns can be used in schools, which books can be taught and when women can get an abortion (almost never.)

Groups targeted

Forbidden speech, attacks on the rights of vulnerable groups, union-busting, a governor-controlled State Guard? Welcome to the mean state of Florida.

This session, lawmakers seemed to take delight in passing bills designed to push already-marginalized groups into the shadows. One bans children from drag shows (where’s parental freedom now?) Another makes it a misdemeanor to use bathrooms in public schools and other government buildings if the bathroom doesn’t correspond with your sex at birth.

That’s the same bill that led Rep. Webster Barnaby, a Republican from Deltona, to erupt into a thundering, Old Testament-style tirade at a House Commerce Committee meeting in April, calling transgender people “demons,” “imps” and “mutants from another planet.” He apologized later, but the fact that he felt free enough to go on that rant speaks volumes about the way Republicans in Tallahassee are thinking. And though the words were abhorrent even to some Republicans, in the end, that didn’t make a dent. The bill passed.

Lawmakers still had plenty more punishment to dole out: Florida also will start prohibiting teachers from asking for students’ preferred gender pronouns in schools, expanding the “Don’t say gay” law, and criminalizing gender-affirming care.

In addition to making it legal to carry a loaded and concealed gun, without training or a permit — that’s HB 543 — lawmakers made sure under SB 450 to lower the bar for the death penalty to eight votes from a 12-member jury, the lowest in the nation. They did that knowing that Florida has the highest number of exonerations in the country, with 30 people since 1973 wrongfully convicted and sent to Death Row, only to be cleared years later.

And Florida’s six-week abortion ban, which goes into effect if the state’s current 15-week law weathers an ongoing legal challenge in the state Supreme Court. The six-week ban is especially cruel and punitive because many women don’t know they are pregnant within at that point. That could amount to forced pregnancy, a hellish concept if there ever was one — and one that may make even staunch Republicans blanch.

Voters across the country should take note. As we head into a presidential election, the Florida that is emerging today under DeSantis’ tight control is a bleak cautionary tale.

— The Miami Herald

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