During a five-day special legislative session this week, the GOP-controlled House and Senate approved seven bills that expand much of DeSantis's agenda that has catapulted the governor into the national spotlight in recent years. Among these include measures that would expand his controversial migrant transport program as well as a further crackdown on election-related crimes.
The special legislative session prompted some scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers who argued DeSantis pushed Republicans into it in order to boost his national profile.
“The reality is we have a governor setting up a presidential bid, and this is basically his attempt to get earned media time on Fox News,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani (D) during a floor debate on Friday.
One such proposal that was passed by the legislature this week includes a program that would continue transporting illegal immigrants to Democratic-led states — a move that has prompted criticism in recent months. The legislation creates the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program within the state’s Division of Emergency Management, giving state workers the authority to transport migrants to other states if deemed necessary.
The legislation builds on previous moves from DeSantis to fly migrants out of the Sunshine State to northern Democratic-led cities. DeSantis first flew two planes carrying nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in September, prompting outcry from some critics who called the tactic inhumane.
The new legislation would pave the way for such programs to continue, allowing Florida to transport migrants from any state, not just those in Florida.
Another contentious bill that made its way through the legislature this week includes a measure seeking to crack down on election-related crimes. Florida lawmakers approved legislation that would give state prosecutors authority to charge residents with election violations, building on DeSantis’s previous efforts to crack down on election fraud.
DeSantis previously created the Office of Election Crimes and Security last year, resulting in the arrest of 20 individuals who were accused of illegally voting in the 2020 election because they had previous criminal convictions. Florida allows for some convicted felons to vote in state elections, due to a law that was passed in 2018. However, this does not extend to those who were convicted of murder or sex offenses, which caused some confusion during the 2020 cycle.
Judges tossed out several of those cases, ruling that the Office of Statewide Prosecution does not have jurisdiction over election fraud cases. The new bill would change that, giving state prosecutors that authority.
Lawmakers also approved a bill that would give the state government and DeSantis more control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special taxing jurisdiction that has given Disney World self-governance for more than 50 years. Florida legislators first stripped Disney World of this autonomy last year after company officials publicly criticized the bill that prohibits teachers from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms from kindergarten to third grade.
The latest iteration of the bill renames the district to Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and replaces the jurisdiction’s governing board with a five-person oversight team appointed by DeSantis.
The recent legislative wins are sure to give DeSantis a leg up with national conservatives should he launch a White House bid. Although DeSantis has not yet indicated whether he plans to run for president, the governor is considered a top contender and a rising star within the Republican Party.