The 2021 Florida Legislature convenes March 2 under COVID-19 restrictions. Here, the working Capitol appears behind the Historic Capitol Museum. Credit: Colin Hackley
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ sudden announcement to call a special session to impose restrictions on COVID vaccine mandates pushed by President Joe Biden has blindsided much of Florida’s political world.
It comes at a time when lawmakers are in legislative committee meetings leading up to the regular session just months away. That session starts Jan. 11. And Florida has already had a special session to handle details of a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Lawmakers also face a major task — mapping out new legislative and Congressional districts.
Meanwhile, the political campaigns are already in motion, with DeSantis in reelection mode.
And the COVID pandemic continues.
Christina Pushaw, a communications staffer for DeSantis, tweeted that: “Florida is fighting back against unjust and unscientific mandates.”
Following the governor’s announcement on Thursday, Democratic lawmakers and other figures weighed in on DeSantis’ call for the special session.
“This was a surprise to all of us,” Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who represents part of Hillsborough County, said during a Zoom call with state House Democratic caucus. She was joined by Central Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani and Rep. Ramon Alexander who represents Gadsden County and part of Leon. which encompasses the state capital.
Driskell called the potential special session a “distraction” and said that she saw it as DeSantis taking a “direct swipe at the Biden administration.”
President Biden has ordered his administration to prepare regulations requiring employees to become vaccinated or else face weekly testing, intending to curb transmission of the coronavirus.
“This move for special session is the governor directly putting the government in the way of our small businesses and their ability to earn a living, to put food on the table. And frankly it’s just the wrong move and the wrong message for Florida,” Driskell said during the Zoom call.
Here are some other reactions around Florida:
/U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist, a former Florida Republican governor who is running for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, tweeted:
“DeSantis is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on legal fights to tout his right-wing credentials for his presidential bid. And now he’s going to waste more money on a ‘Soft on Covid’ anti-business special session. Everyone sees right through you Ron.”
/Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an elected Cabinet who is campaigning for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial race, released a written statement:
“This is a purely self-serving political ploy by the governor, once again pulling out all the stops to appease – and encourage – extremist positions that fly in the face of science and public health instead of protecting our children, our communities, and our economy. It provides a dangerous platform for extremists who have been threatening those trying to do right to keep their communities safe, and creates a slippery slope by undermining public health policies supported by sound science and the medical community by instead promoting conspiracy theorists and risky unproven treatments.
/State Sen. Annette Taddeo, of South Florida, who recently got into the Democratic primary for governor, said in a written statement: “This is wildly out of step with the majority of Floridians and completely reckless. It speaks to the overreaches this governor will do to take control over private enterprise and health care decisions.”
/Mark Ferrulo, executive director of the nonprofit Progress Florida, also weighed in through a written statement:
“While Florida’s small businesses and local governments are doing all they can to keep people safe and allow our economy to rebound, our state’s governor seems hellbent on continuing this pandemic for as long as possible no matter how many people he gets sick in the process. Today’s announcement is another example by Governor Ron DeSantis of spreading medical disinformation and undermining public health in order to play to the far-right and anti-vax fringe.”
/State Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat who represents part of Broward and Palm Beach counties, tweeted:
“This is beyond outrageous. When Covid first hit we asked for a special session to address among other things the horrible unemployment assistance system. When Floridians needed help, they said no. Now, for political expediency, we have a special session. Shows you their values.”
/State Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat who represents part of Duval County, commented in a written statement:
“From businesses and schools, to our health care and front line workers, everyone except Florida’s failed governor is shouldering the responsibility of keeping us free from sickness and economic disaster…He wants to light Florida’s tax dollars on fire with this special session in order to put public health and livelihoods at risk in exchange for his own political ambitions.”
/State Rep. Michael Grieco, a Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade County, tweets:
“Florida is an at-will work state. Your bosses currently can fire/hire you based upon how they feel about the color of your shoes if they want to…but apparently vaccination status doesn’t fit the cozy corporate freedom model.”
The Republican Party of Florida retweeted a sign seen at DeSantis’s Thursday press conference, a parody of the Gadsden Flag with the silhouette of an alligator, reading “DONT TREAD ON FLORIDA.”
Rep. Jason Fischer, a Republican who represents part of Duval County, retweeted the same picture adding that: “@GovRonDeSantis is a fighter and a champion of the people!”
State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, the Majority Leader for the Senate Republicans who represents Indian River County and part of Brevard County, said in a written statement:
“I have heard from many constituents who are concerned that their abilities to provide for their families and make health care decisions for themselves are being threatened by the Biden Administration’s sweeping COVID-19 mandates. I look forward to working alongside President Wilton Simpson and Governor Ron DeSantis to preserve our individual rights and safeguard Floridians from the federal government’s overreach.”
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