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After a year and a less-than-stellar presidential campaign, everything changes.

This past year, the Florida legislature dragged on for 60 days straight as the ruling Republicans rammed through a slew of conservative and divisive measures regarding sexual orientation, firearms, and abortion—issues that would later be used by Governor Ron DeSantis in his campaign for president.

But, the Florida governor has been campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in Iowa and New Hampshire for the most of his time leading up to this year’s session, which begins on Tuesday. Despite his lacklustre campaign performance, DeSantis is set to return to Tallahassee on Tuesday for his annual “State of the State” address. However, in contrast to past years, he has presented a very limited agenda.

Legislators are displeased that he is focusing on his presidential campaign rather than the session, which is the most crucial time of year for them. He still hasn’t told legislative leaders what he wants done or laid out a laundry list of policy objectives he wants lawmakers to implement.

State Democratic leader Fentrice Driskell commented, “We really don’t know what this session is about, which is odd.”

This is quite a turnaround for a governor who has repeatedly pushed lawmakers to take action, such as calling special sessions to address his feud with Disney and to express sympathy with Israel in the wake of the Hamas assaults. With considerable influence in the Florida legislature, DeSantis has been among the most influential governors in the state in decades.

During a news conference in early December, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said that she had contacted Governor Ron DeSantis to inquire about his legislative objectives; during their conversation, the governor reportedly made a joke about having gotten everything he wanted the year before.

And DeSantis has brought it up again and time again when campaigning in Iowa last week, arguing that he “over delivered” on his pledges to Floridians.

Following his dominant reelection victory in November 2022, DeSantis pushed his Republican legislative partners to pass a comprehensive package of reforms. Finally, lawmakers approved measures that would have eliminated the need for concealed weapons permits, outlawed abortion beyond the sixth week of pregnancy, made it illegal for adolescents to get medical care that affirms their gender, and made private school vouchers available to any family that requested them.

An anonymous DeSantis supporter explained that the goal was to prevent him from being out-manoeuvred by his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign.

A budget outline outlining spending objectives was released by DeSantis in early December. It includes tax savings and more funding for signature areas like Everglades restoration and teacher pay raises. However, the governor has provided very little advice to the legislature beyond that.

The governor’s friend and former legislative ally, State Senator Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), has maintained that DeSantis and his administration are fully involved in the upcoming session.

“The session will still bear his mark,” Ingoglia remarked. I am aware that the governor’s staff has been involved with numerous bills. To claim they are inactive would be an understatement.

While DeSantis is in the midst of a pivotal make-or-break moment for his presidential candidature, Florida is holding its annual legislative session. He is now engaged in a contest with former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley to determine who will pose the greatest threat to incumbent President Donald Trump, who is still leading in surveys taken in crucial early primary states like Iowa.

DeSantis and a large portion of his campaign staff are already in Iowa in preparation for the upcoming caucuses on January 15. This week, DeSantis is making the rounds around Florida in an effort to either win the state easily or put up a respectable showing in the secondary election, which might give him a boost going forward. The legislative session in Florida is about to begin. A month after that, on January 23, is the South Carolina primary, and a week after that, on January 23, is New Hampshire.

While it wouldn’t be uncommon, it would be a dramatic shift from recent years for DeSantis to prioritise his presidential campaign over domestic issues. In past sessions, Republican governors would sit on their hands and allow legislative leaders decide the session’s tone and agenda, particularly when it came to contentious issues.

Despite opposition from former governor Jeb Bush and his supporters, Passidomo and the Republicans in the Senate are moving forward with multiple significant ideas, one of which is a revision of school laws and testing criteria. Additionally, Passidomo is spearheading a plan to increase the state’s workforce of medical experts.

However, partisan tensions between Democrats and Republicans may persist even in the absence of the governor’s active participation.

Already, Democrats have been quite vocal in their opposition to a plan that would relax the state’s regulations on child labour and make it possible for teenagers to work full time. Republicans have also introduced legislation to repeal the Parkland school shooting’s mandated minimum age to purchase firearms, prohibit government agencies from mandating the use of certain pronouns regarding coworkers, and mandate the teaching of students that the Democratic Party in the 19th century advocated for slavery.

“I have a feeling it will stay pretty much the same,” Driskell remarked. “Things will likely get off to a good start in the session, but then everything will come crashing down.”


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