(The Center Square) – Recognizing there’s little likelihood that many of their priorities will advance, Democrat leaders in the Florida Legislature say they’ll blunt Republican “opportunism” when the 60-day legislative session begins March 2.
New Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said Democrats, who are outnumbered 24-16, fiercely will contest Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-mob” proposal that extends Stand Your Ground to property crimes and efforts to exploit pandemic-induced budget constraints to slash health and human services spending.
The governor’s “anti-mob” initiative is “a nonstarter for our caucus,” Farmer said Monday. “To cut services now would just be pouring salt on the wounds of Floridians who are already hurting in a variety of ways.”
Florida House Democrats on Monday selected Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, as co-leaders of their chamber caucus. They will lead a delegation outnumbered by Republicans, 74-46.
Monday’s caucuses preceded Tuesday’s one-day organizational session to swear in newly elected legislators and install Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, as Senate President and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, as House Speaker.
Farmer said Senate Democrats would call for maintaining health care spending, fixing the state’s collapsed unemployment system and combating the COVID-19 pandemic to accelerate the state’s economic recovery. He said the pandemic has exposed gaps in mental health services that must be addressed.
“I fear we are seeing only a very small tip of an approaching iceberg in the form of additional mental health issues created by this pandemic and the isolation that has been associated with it,” Farmer said.
Farmer said Senate Democrats will support Black Lives Matter civil justice legislation and outspokenly will oppose DeSantis’ proposed Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act, which has been submitted as an un-filed draft to Senate and House committees.
The governor introduced the prospective measure in September as the “strongest pro-law enforcement, anti-rioting, anti-looting legislation anywhere in the country” in response to “violent and disorderly assemblies” during summer-long police brutality protests while acknowledging no such events occurred In Florida.
Among other things, the proposed bill expands “forcible felonies” that justify lethal defense to include criminal mischief that results in “interruption or impairment” of a business, and looting, defined as burglary within 500 feet of a “violent or disorderly assembly.”
The proposed “forcible felonies” amendment would expand Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law, the controversial extension of the Castle Doctrine that allows people to use lethal force “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”
“People have the right to peacefully assemble,” Farmer said, adding political demonstrations across Florida, including by Trump supporters, have been peaceful.
“We should not use (social unrest) as excuses to take away our focuses from inequalities that exist and reforms that are necessary,” he said. “The Black lives that were lost before this election, they matter, and they need to motivate us to do better as a society and put in place reforms and help for our police officers.”
Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, joined Farmer in calling the “anti-mob” proposal “reckless and irresponsible.”
“We cannot allow death to be the punishment for a property crime because we do not live in a lawless society,” Bracy said in a statement. “Gov. DeSantis’ brand of conservatism is looking more and more like Trumpism. His proposals to ‘crack down on protests’ will only fuel racial unrest and violence, not dampen them. DeSantis is treating the law as a playbook for his next election which is reckless and irresponsible.”