The show’s over.
It was brief, three days. The plot was predictable. It played to a near-empty house with as little dissent and disagreement as possible — just the way Gov. Ron DeSantis likes it.
At last week’s special session of the Florida Legislature, every Republican, and too many Democrats, became handmaidens of the governor’s escalation of public health risks by restricting vaccine and mask mandates in a state where nearly 61,000 people have died of COVID-19.
This rush job by DeSantis and fellow Republicans had two missions: to demonize President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate and promote DeSantis as the nation’s No. 1 vaccine critic. The result pushes Florida further to the extreme edge of anti-vaccine hysteria. Doesn’t that make you proud to be a Floridian?
New laws will restrict businesses and school districts from controlling the virus with mask or vaccine mandates; allow the governor to create a costly new agency to replace federal oversight of worker safety; and placate corporations with an overly broad public records loophole that keeps secret all employee complaints and state investigations of vaccine mandate restrictions. DeSantis & Co. don’t want your doctor to require his staff members to be vaccinated, and your favorite restaurant could be a hotbed of COVID complaints — you’ll never know.
The only suspense this scripted show provided was on the open records bill (HB 3B). That was a disappointment, too. Senate Democrats could have prevented its passage and derailed DeSantis’ dangerous agenda by sticking together and blocking the required two-thirds vote that applies to any new public records exemption. But the fractured minority party’s internal dissension got in the way.
Four Democratic senators missed the key vote, and those absences gave the Republicans the cushion they needed. The result: more points on the board for DeSantis.
The official roll call vote tells the story: Senators Loranne Ausley of Tallahassee, Lauren Book of Plantation, Randolph Bracy of Orlando and Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach all let down their many Democratic constituents by not voting.
All four were DeSantis enablers who missed an opportunity to impede the sad, continued erosion of Florida’s public records laws.
If all four of those Democrats voted against the public records loophole, they would have killed a bill that the First Amendment Foundation calls overly broad and likely unconstitutional. But their inaction helped preserve a perfect 4-for-4 score for DeSantis on bills passed in the special session.
He took the first of many victory laps Thursday by signing the bills into law at a suburban Tampa car dealership. The cheering section included Attorney General Ashley Moody, who must enforce the new mandate ban, and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who must quickly write new emergency rules to enforce the new laws.
“You control your body,” Ladapo told the crowd. “It is your body. God gave it to you. It’s your body.” (Remember those words when the 2022 regular legislative session begins in January and DeSantis pushes for new abortion restrictions).
The event came the day after DeSantis attended a Fox Nation Patriot Awards event at Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, where guests were required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
At Thursday’s event, DeSantis trafficked in more disinformation, telling a TV audience: “COVID vaxxes are not preventing infections, OK? It’s just not,” citing the case rate on the island of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control begs to differ and says vaccines save lives.
On the day the session ended, Disney, the state’s most iconic corporate name, announced a mandatory vaccination requirement for cruise ship passengers as young as age 5.
DeSantis is flat-out wrong and irresponsible about the effectiveness of vaccines. He should be traveling to all corners of the state, using all of his political capital to emphasize the virtues of a safe and historic scientific breakthrough that allows most of us to stay alive.
Instead, DeSantis has now become the nation’s most visible and powerful vaccine resister, railing against “jabs” and “forced injections,” and using Floridians as political pawns to pander to Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states in the next race for the White House.