Sun-Sentinel: Exiled to Mar-a-Lago, Trump and his grievances drive Florida Legislature’s agenda

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By Skyler Swisher

As they start their two-month session, Republicans in the Florida Legislature are seeking to address some of Donald Trump’s biggest grievances, showcasing that the former president’s political clout remains immense in his home state.Trump’s favorite targets — Big Tech, China, Antifa and election fraud — are also at the top of the agenda for the GOP-controlled Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis. Advertisement

State lawmakers will consider bills imposing new regulations on social media companies, cracking down on rioting, targeting Chinese espionage and responding to Trump’s myth that voting shenanigans cost him the election.R

Trump has inspired a new generation of Republican politicians who are looking to make their mark and boost their status with conservative voters, said state Rep. Evan Jenne, co-leader of House Democrats.

“A lot of it is, ‘Hey, look at me, I am the Trumpiest Trumper there could ever be,” the Dania Beach lawmaker said. “The deed for the Republican Party switched hands awhile ago and is completely in former President Trump’s possession.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks during CPAC at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando on Feb. 28, 2021.
Former President Donald Trump speaks during CPAC at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando on Feb. 28, 2021. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Here are some of the Trump-inspired items lawmakers will consider during the 60-day legislative session that starts Tuesday.

Voting changes: Despite Florida’s 2020 election getting good reviews from Democrats and Republicans, DeSantis wants to change voting laws. One of the most controversial proposals would make a voter’s mail-ballot request last for only one year instead of two. That would wipe away an advantage Democrats have in standing mail-ballot requests, potentially boosting DeSantis’ reelection chances in 2022.

DeSantis, a close Trump ally, wants to prohibit county election offices from accepting money from nonprofit organizations to conduct “get-out-the-vote” campaigns. He also wants to tighten regulations on mail ballot drop boxes and so-called “ballot harvesting,” where ballots are collected and dropped off at election offices.RELATED: Gov. DeSantis called Florida a model for election integrity. Now he’s pushing voting changes that could help his reelection chances. »

Big Tech: Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms banished Trump. Now, Republicans are on a mission to stamp out what they consider to be a liberal bias in Big Tech that is silencing conservative voices.

One measure would require a month’s notice be given before a user’s account is suspended or deleted, while another proposal would fine tech companies $100,000 each day a statewide candidate’s account is blocked.

‘Anti-riot’ legislation: Following Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, DeSantis unveiled a proposal to toughen penalties for already illegal acts committed during a civil disturbance.

He tried to rebrand the proposal after the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots, saying it would prevent violence regardless of a mob’s political affiliation.RELATED: Gov. DeSantis ‘anti-riot’ plan does more than crack down on mob violence. Here’s what it would change. »

Democrats and civil liberties groups say the legislation is so broadly written it could squelch peaceful protests and infringe on free speech. It also includes a provision that would allow the state to override cuts to police budgets, even if the department’s chief and local officials deem them to be necessary. All it would take is one resident to challenge the cut for it to be submitted for a state review.

China: On Monday, DeSantis and Republican leaders highlighted legislation aimed at addressing Chinese influence on college campuses and corporate espionage, another concern of the conservative base.RELATED: DeSantis’ anti-riot plan would criminalize peaceful protesters, says woman shot with cop’s rubber bullet »

DeSantis emerges as leading 2024 GOP presidential contender

DeSantis’ legislative agenda played well when he kicked off the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday in Orlando.

“We cannot, we will not, go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear,” DeSantis told the crowd.

The 42-year-old governor has positioned himself as a successor to Trump. In CPAC’s straw poll, DeSantis finished as the top GOP contender in the 2024 presidential primary if Trump decides not to run, beating out other upstart politicians.

As a Palm Beach resident, Trump still looms large over Florida. Despite losing nationally, Trump won his home state by about 370,000 votes, increasing his margin of victory from 2016.RELATED: With Trump victory in Florida, the state turned a deeper red. What does it mean for future elections? »

Trump’s endorsement catapulted DeSantis to victory in 2018 over the early Republican establishment favorite, former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

State legislators aren’t just taking their direction from Trump, said Evan Power, a top leader in the Republican Party of Florida. They are also responding to the broader conservative grassroots movement that Trump has created.

“The governor is doing a good job of advancing a conservative message that will resonate with Republican voters,” said Power, chairman of the Leon County GOP. “I see it more as a fact we have become a red state, and our policy reflects more of the conservative and Republican viewpoint.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez sit in the Senate chamber during the Florida Legislature's Organization Session in Tallahassee on Nov. 17, 2020. (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez sit in the Senate chamber during the Florida Legislature’s Organization Session in Tallahassee on Nov. 17, 2020. (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP) (Tori Lynn Schneider/AP)

Lawmakers will have other items on their plate besides Trump’s grievances. They’ll tackle revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic, and legislation that would shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits and crack down on COVID scammers.

Democrats want to reform Florida’s unemployment system, which crashed under an unprecedented surge of claims, and address police reforms demanded by Black Lives Matter protesters.

But getting Democratic priorities heard will be a challenge with Republicans firmly in control in Tallahassee, said state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere.

“The majority — the leadership — are on the Trump train,” she said.