Gov. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers are taking a victory lap around Florida touting their success in pushing through their agenda during the 2021 legislative session.
What they consider priorities — adding barriers to mail-in voting, citizen ballot initiatives and protesting — are not only bad for Floridians, but they could be deemed unconstitutional if the several groups suing the state win in court.
It’s not lost on us that taxpayers will foot the bill for defending these new laws against the legal challenges. But Republicans are emboldened after securing several conservative appointees to federal benches under former President Trump and to the Florida Supreme Court under DeSantis.
Lawsuits can go on for years and cost millions of dollars. From 2011 to 2017, the state spent $19 million to cover expenses and fees for lawyers who sued the state, and many of those lawsuits challenged polices enacted by the Legislature, an Associated Press analysis found. That included $1.1 million then-Gov. Rick Scott agreed to pay in 2017 to settle a lawsuit challenging an NRA-backed law that restricted doctors’ ability to talk to patients about guns. A federal appeals court ruled it violated the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
Florida has a history of passing laws that are bound for a legal challenge. The 2021 legislative session was no exception, but the laws passed this year aren’t just bad — they are a direct assault on the Floridians who put lawmakers and the governor in office.
Assault on citizens’ voice
Senate Bill 1890 is only one example. It puts a $3,000 limit on campaign contributions to a political committee that sponsors a constitutional amendment proposed by referendum.
While lawmakers want to make it nearly impossible to finance ballot proposals, their own political committees can continue to receive unlimited cash from donors.
SB 1890 is also a violation of the First Amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union says in its federal lawsuit, arguing the $3,000 “contribution limit unconstitutionally burdens and chills plaintiff’s free speech.”
Amending the state Constitution already is difficult and expensive, thanks to barriers lawmakers have erected over the years. SB 1890 was a clear jab at Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, who — to Republicans’ dismay — bankrolled two successful referendums, one to legalize medical marijuana in 2016 and another to raise the minimum wage in 2020.
Un-American ‘anti-riot’ law
Two lawsuits have been filed against HB 1, dubbed the “anti-riot” law. Passed in response to Black Lives Matter protests last summer, it’s mere bait for Trump’s base. It is the Proud Boys’ dream come true and Black Floridians’ nightmare — by Republican lawmakers’ design.
According to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Tallahassee by a group of civil-rights organizations, the law violates the First and 14th Amendments.
It increases penalties for crimes committed during protests and creates new ones. Plaintiffs point out the law’s definition of a riot is so broad that even peaceful protesters might end up jailed for violence committed by others. The law also protects counter-protesters from civil liability if they injure or kill protesters.
“The Act creates mandatory minimums for certain offenses and prohibits bail for those arrested, ensuring that even wrongfully detained nonviolent protesters must remain in custody for extended periods of time,” the lawsuit states.
Multiple lawsuits have challenged the controversial elections law Republicans concocted to justify Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen out from under him. Although lawmakers removed some of its most restrictive measures, such as a ban on mail ballot drop boxes, they still imposed obstacles to voting without proving why they’re needed.
Voters will have to request mail ballots more often, the use of drop boxes is limited and third-party groups are banned from helping voters return their mail ballots, which will disproportionately impact seniors.
The NAACP claims in its lawsuit that SB 90 creates “barriers and burdens that impact all Florida voters and disproportionately impacts the ability of Black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities to cast their ballot.”
More lawsuits might be on the horizon.
An Idaho law similar to a bill the Florida Legislature passed banning transgender female athletes was ruled unconstitutional by a district court. Should DeSantis sign this discriminatory bill — and we urge him not to — it, too, should be challenged in court.
We’re all about letting the state fight a good fight in court. But Florida is squandering our tax dollars so it can take away our rights.