The Most Important Political Issues Facing Central Florida

Opponents of the current political climate in Central Florida argue that it will inject politics into typically apolitical issues. As of now, more than 1,000 bills have been proposed, focusing on education, tax relief, immigration, criminal justice reform and more. Changes to Florida's curriculum, educational regulations, and even teacher conduct are being discussed in this session, from changes in higher education and restrictions not only on what can be taught but also how, to reducing the number of students learning about reproductive health, at least 10 bills have been introduced by Florida legislators to eliminate “indoctrination” and “ideology” from the public school system, including pre-kindergarten and colleges and universities.

Ron DeSantis' calculations for the election year will dominate the 60-day session that will begin in January. DeSantis, who has not yet officially declared his candidacy for re-election, is raising funds across the country. A successful session would boost his race for governor and a possible presidential bid in 2024. To be sure, the governor recently denied any interest in the White House. And as if the timing were right, DeSantis has recently been in conflict with school boards over mask policies and with local governments over vaccination mandates.

The pandemic casts a shadow over all public policy debates. Florida ranks third in the country in terms of infections (3.4 million) and fourth in terms of deaths (50.81). The summer taxed resources as ICU units approached maximum capacity and portable morgues were deployed in some hospitals. The House of Representatives 26% Pandemic Public Emergencies Committee is expected to receive an update on Monday on the situation of Florida's hospitals.

DeSantis has become the de facto leader of the opposition to President Joe Biden's proposals on the coronavirus. Florida is one of 24 states where leaders have threatened to use all legal options to oppose the vaccination mandate. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando, said that the Republican majority has infected politics with the “politics of the virus”. In particular, Florida's public schools have become ground zero in the state's response to the coronavirus.

The start of the school year in August without a mask mandate caused an outbreak of mass infections and quarantines across the state. DeSantis has threatened to withhold state funds that are part of school board members' salaries in districts that challenge its ban on masks. He is fighting his parents in court for it. While debate continues on the best way to combat the virus in schools, DeSantis has proposed eliminating the state's dependence on standardized tests to measure teacher effectiveness and school performance for nearly a quarter of a century.

DeSantis called for legislation to replace the state's end-of-year evaluation with a Florida student thinking evaluation, a plan focusing on a series of brief tests to measure student progress. The Florida Education Association, which represents public school teachers, released a statement calling DeSantis' idea “a big victory for our students and public schools”. Legislators must now determine how this will play out politically and legally. The Texas abortion ban, which offers financial incentives for reporting offenders, will serve as a model for a Florida bill, Simpson said recently.

The Supreme Court has refused to block the ban. The law restricts abortion to around six weeks, undermining Roe v Wade's ruling that established a woman's constitutional right to abort until the fetus is viable, usually at 24 weeks. Linda Stewart, a Democrat from Orlando, says that the only question left about abortion rights is how restrictive the Republicans' proposed bill will be. And Planned Parenthood supporters have called for a demonstration with the theme “Prohibit our bodies” on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The Legislature will begin redesigning political boundaries once every decade in the third most populous state.

Activists and legislators have already drawn their own battle lines. How legislators divide state congressional and legislative districts could determine US House control and if Republicans achieve a supermajority in the Florida House of Representatives they are only four seats away and still have an eight-seat advantage in the Senate. Advocacy groups such as Fair Districts, which drafted a constitutional amendment to curb electoral manipulation in the process, were alarmed when Sen Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Estero and chairman of the Senate Committee on Redistricting, said legislators would start with “a clean slate”. Ellen Freidin, executive director of Fair Districts Now called it wrong and recommended using current congressional and Senate districts approved by courts as basis for new maps. Not only is Florida introducing several litigation reforms but it is also establishing what it calls freedom of expression protections and even some requirements for writers who cover policy issues to be entered into a state registry.

Central and South Florida are growing at rates that are not sustainable with current use and supply. Florida legislators are embarking on redesigning political boundaries once every decade to adapt to population changes recorded by the census.

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Désirée Lejeune
Désirée Lejeune

Award-winning travel fanatic. Total twitter aficionado. Extreme pop culture enthusiast. Hipster-friendly coffee advocate. Amateur food nerd.