The Florida governor and 2024 presidential candidate has captured national attention by waging culture wars and picking fights with brands like Disney and Bud Light
The far-right politician has risen to prominence in recent years, elevated by his November 2022 gubernatorial election in which he won a second term in a landslide. But DeSantis has also captured national attention by waging culture wars, picking fights with brands like Disney and Bud Light and — most divisively — with the everyday Floridians that his legislative agenda targets.
Over the past few years and in the lead-up to announcing his presidential campaign, the 44-year-old Harvard- and Yale-educated former lawyer has signed into law bills that place restrictions on abortion, mandate where transgender people can use the restroom, and enforce whether students or teachers can discuss any topics about being gay while in school.
Below, some of the most controversial measures championed and signed into law by Gov. DeSantis so far this year.
Restrictions on Drag Shows
In May, DeSantis signed sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation, including a measure directly targeting drag shows. In a press release, the DeSantis administration described the bill as one that would "protect children from sexually explicit adult performances in all venues — including drag shows and strip clubs."
SB 1438, nicknamed the "Protection of Children" bill, allows for criminal penalties against any food service establishment that admits children to “an adult live performance," defined in the law as any live show that "predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest" or "is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community of this state as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for the age of the child present."
Criminalizing Gender-Affirming Care for Minors
Also in May, DeSantis signed a bill that would criminalize doctors who provide gender-affirming care to minors. As the ACLU of Florida has noted, the bill would also allow a parent who is non-supportive of their child's wish to transition to have the upper hand in child custody disputes in divorce proceedings versus a parent who is supportive of their trans child’s health care.
“As the world goes mad, Florida represents a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy," DeSantis said in a press release announcing his signing of the bills.
Critical Race Theory
In May, the governor signed a bill that will eliminate funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs from public universities and prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in general education courses.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (also known as DEI) and critical race theory (or CRT) courses have become a hot-button topic, particularly among conservatives who argue that the classes will teach white students that they are inferior to their minority peers. Progressives, however, say that these classes help foster a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
DeSantis has argued against them, claiming that "woke" ideology is racially divisive and discriminatory. CRT, he has said, is "state-sanctioned racism that ... [teaches] kids to hate our country or to hate each other."
'Don't Say Gay' Expansion
In 2022, Florida lawmakers passed a bill to block the classroom discussion of certain LGBTQ topics in the third grade or younger, or "in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
The bill, formally titled "Parental Rights in Education," received widespread, national backlash even before it took effect in July, with critics saying it could have adverse effects on an already marginalized community.
In May 2023, DeSantis signed a bill that expands on the measure by forbidding classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, K-12.
The so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill has already proven an enduring part of DeSantis' legacy in Florida, and has sparked a fight between him and Disney that remains ongoing more than a year later. After the company expressed opposition to the polarizing measure, DeSantis went on the attack, publicly urging legislators to revoke special privileges Disney has enjoyed in Florida since the 1960s.
In April, Disney sued DeSantis, claiming "government retaliation."
Concealed Weapons Without a Permit
In April, DeSantis signed into law a measure that allows Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The law, which goes into effect on July 1, allows anyone who can legally own a gun in Florida to carry one without a permit. The new law also does away with a mandate requiring gun owners to complete a firearm safety and training course and pay a $97 licensing fee to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Polling has shown that permitless carry is incredibly unpopular in Florida, where one survey found that 77% of those polled oppose the measure.
In a statement, John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said DeSantis and Republican lawmakers who championed the bill had "made it clear they serve the gun lobby, not the clear majority of Florida voters — including Republicans — who favor high standards for carrying a hidden gun.”
Transgender Sports Participation and Bathroom Bills
In 2021, DeSantis signed a bill that would bar transgender female athletes from playing on public school teams meant for student athletes who are biological females. "In Florida, girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports," DeSantis said at the time. "We're going to make sure that that's the reality."
As NPR reported at the time, DeSantis signed the bill on the first day of Pride Month.
By 2023, DeSantis was still focused on bills placing restrictions on the transgender community, signing into law on May 17 a measure that makes it a criminal trespassing offense for someone to use a bathroom that doesn’t align with their sex at birth, and mandates that public buildings, education facilities, detention facilities, correctional institutions (including juvenile institutions) all have separate bathrooms for men and women.
Six-Week Abortion Ban
In April, DeSantis signed into law a ban against abortions after six weeks, which would allow abortions only in cases to save a pregnant person's life.
Abortions from pregnancies resulting in rape or incest would be allowed until 15 weeks of gestation, but only if the woman has proof of a restraining order or police report, the Associated Press reports.
"We are proud to support life and family in the state of Florida," DeSantis said in a news release distributed at the time.
Conservatives have long championed anti-abortion measures. But Republican losses in regional and state elections in recent months (particularly since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade) demonstrate what some believe is a shifting attitude about abortion among voters, particularly women. One March poll found 75% of Florida residents oppose the bill signed into law by DeSantis.
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Weeks before he announced his presidential run, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 256, a measure critics say will make it more difficult for public-sector workers in Florida (including teachers) to create unions and collectively bargain for things like better pay, better insurance, or paid sick leave.
The Tampa Bay Tribune reported that unions representing law-enforcement officers, correctional officers and firefighters are exempt from the requirements laid out in the measure.
In April, DeSantis signed a bill that will allow juries to impose the death sentence on someone, even if only eight out of 12 jurors agree the person should be sentenced to death.
Critics argue the measure is a violation of the Constitution and would make Florida the state with the lowest threshold for the death penalty. ABC News reports that, of the 24 states that carry out the death penalty, only three states allow non-unanimous death sentence verdicts: Alabama, in which a 10 out of 12 majority of a jury is required, and Indiana and Missouri, where a judge can make the decision if a jury is divided.
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