‘Florida blueprint’: Key right-wing bills signed by Ron DeSantis

From immigration to guns to abortion, the presidential candidate pushed laws to advance conservative agenda in Florida.

Washington, DC – Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is promising to take his “Florida blueprint” of conservative policy-making to the federal government as he seeks his party’s presidential nomination for 2024.

That “blueprint” has been in the making since DeSantis took office in Florida early in 2019, with the governor using his powers and the Republican majority in the legislature to turn his staunchly right-wing agenda into laws.

DeSantis, who has emerged as former President Donald Trump’s most serious challenger in the Republican primaries, officially launched his presidential bid on Wednesday in a Twitter announcement plagued by glitches and technical difficulties.

But his campaign will certainly hope to shift the focus back to his perceived accomplishments in the Sunshine State.

Here, Al Jazeera looks at five key right-wing policies that helped DeSantis cement his status in conservative US politics.

The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

Last year, DeSantis signed a bill that restricted discussions of sexuality and gender identity in Florida schools.

Dubbed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the legislation sparked outrage from liberal advocates who argued that the restrictions can marginalise and harm young students who identify as LGBTQ+.

“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards,” the legislation read.

The bill allowed parents to bring lawsuits against school districts if they thought the law has been violated.

It also requires school officials to inform parents “if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being”.

In April, the Florida Board of Education expanded the law to apply to all grades not just primary school children.

Conservatives have claimed it is part of a broader push to give parents more say in the education of their children, especially when it comes to issues of sexuality and gender identity.

The law – whose official name is Parental Rights in Education – drew criticism from Walt Disney Company executives, prompting DeSantis to move to strip the company of its status as a special tax district.

That move against Disney turned into a highly publicised, protracted legal and political battle that drew further praise from conservatives who see many corporations as increasingly embracing liberal social issues.

Abortion ban

Last month, DeSantis approved one of the strictest abortion bans in the country – prohibiting the procedure in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy. It followed a 15-week ban he had signed into law a year earlier.

Restricting abortion is another top issue for conservatives who viewed the push as a call to protect the life of the “unborn”. Liberals, however, have said abortion bans infringe on women’s bodily autonomy and right to privacy and healthcare.

The law was rebuked by rights groups that highlighted that many women do not even know they are pregnant at six weeks.

“Signing this bill into law is a grave governmental intrusion into people’s personal lives. Floridians, not politicians, should have the freedom to decide what’s best for ourselves, our families, and our futures,” the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a statement after the bill was signed.

But DeSantis said he was “proud to support life and family” in Florida.

Even Trump, who has often prided himself on appointing three conservative justices to the US Supreme Court – leading to the overturning of the constitutional right to abortion, has suggested that the six-week ban may be “too harsh”.

Anti-immigration bill

Earlier in May, DeSantis signed into law a bill that his office called “strongest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country”, requiring companies with more than 25 employees to implement a system ensuring that their workers are not undocumented.

The legislation also banned Florida municipalities from issuing identification cards to people who do not have regular status.

Moreover, the law required “hospitals to collect and submit data on the costs of providing health care” to undocumented immigrants.

The bill, which came two weeks before DeSantis announced his presidential run, seized on Republican anger at a surge in arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers at the US southern border.

Last year, DeSantis joined other Republican state leaders in funding the relocation of asylum seekers to largely liberal areas of the country. He chartered two flights to transport dozens of migrants and asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy community in the northeastern state of Massachusetts.

The move sparked outrage and questions about the legality of the transfer. Democratic President Joe Biden’s White House denounced the incident at that time as cruel “political theatre”.

Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks
US presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has said his leadership of Florida shows what he can do for the US [File: Scott Audette/Reuters]

Targeting diversity programmes

Earlier this month, DeSantis signed a bill to block federal and state funding to programmes that aim to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at public universities, boosting a conservative push against such initiatives.

He decried DEI programmes as part of a “relatively recent” push to impose an “ideological agenda” on educational institutions.

“DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination. And that has no place in our public institutions,” DeSantis said.

The legislation bans instructions that teach “identity politics” or “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities”.

Over the past few years, many US universities have embraced DEI programmes and training to bolster diversity in their ranks and better address the needs of minority students and faculty.

Democratic state lawmaker Anna Eskamani called the legislation “destructive”, saying that it “suppresses academic freedom and inserts conservative political orthodoxy into the classroom”.

Relaxing gun regulations

Despite recent mass shootings and rising gun violence across the country, DeSantis signed a law in April to further relax firearm regulations in Florida.

The legislation made it legal for people to carry weapons without a permit from the state. “Constitutional Carry is in the books,” DeSantis said in a brief statement at that time.

Gun restrictions are the source of ideological schism between Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats have been calling for stricter regulations to stop gun violence, while many Republicans see gun ownership as a non-negotiable right guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

The White House slammed the Florida law, calling it “shameful”.

“This is the opposite of commonsense gun safety.  The people of Florida — who have paid a steep price for state and Congressional inaction on guns from Parkland to Pulse Nightclub to Pine Hills — deserve better,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement at that time, citing previous mass shootings in Florida.

Source: Al Jazeera