TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A bombshell development involving former President Donald Trump was dropped during week four of Florida's legislative session. Two major bills got the governor's signature. Plus, Florida Democrats believe Sunshine State is still a swing state.
Florida lawmakers found out Thursday evening that former president Donald Trump was facing an indictment for allegations of business fraud. While details were scant, Democrats sounded as though they relished the news.
"Yeah— justice is served," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said with a chuckle. "I think it's important to remember we're in a nation of laws."
Republicans offered a mixed bag of thoughts.
Senate President Sen. Kathleen Passidomo said she hadn't had a chance to read up on the indictment. Other Republicans declined to comment.
Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, offered much of the same criticism found in a statement by Trump on the indictment. He alleged the effort was an attempt to "influence the 2024 presidential race."
"I think it's a witch hunt, election interference and I think it's totally unprecedented," Gruters, the former state GOP chair, said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis got in on it too, offering a tweet saying he wouldn't help with any extradition of Trump — though it doesn't look like that will be needed.
UNIVERSAL VOUCHERS GET INK
Universal school vouchers are now law in Florida. DeSantis signed the plan Monday morning at a private school in Miami. He called it the largest expansion in the state — and perhaps — U.S. history.
While not officially effective until July 1, the bill opens up taxpayer-funded scholarships for private schooling to any K-12 student in the state, regardless of income or ability. Low-income families would still get priority and homeschooled students can get access to the funds for educational supplies.
"That empowers parents," DeSantis said shortly before the bill signing. "That's providing a parent with options to be able to find the best school for the child."
Supporters have said repeatedly their plan allows parents to customize the best education for their children. They note the dollars will follow children, pushing back on criticism that the voucher expansion will draw large amounts of dollars from public schools.
"Parents have had to say to their children, 'I'm sorry we can't make that happen for you this year,'" Florida House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner, who helped champion the bill this year, said. "With this bill and the governor's signature, we will never have a parent have to say that ever again."
Many Democrats have taken issue with increasing state funds for private schools, which lack the same standards as public facilities. Plus, the plan's overall price tag remains unclear. The House and Senate estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending during bill analysis. Nonprofits have said it'll be billions.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, took issue with the expansion's lack of restrictions for those families that can already afford to pay for private tuition.
"The state of Florida shouldn't be using taxpayer dollars to fund private school education for millionaires' — and even billionaires' — kids ... but despite Democrats' best efforts, that's exactly what's happening," Book said in a statement. "Every day people in this state deserve better than free handouts for the excessively wealthy designed to defund public schools while also keeping educators impoverished by robbing district funds."
The Florida Education Association is among the critics of the changes. The union, which represents teachers, higher education faculty and other educational staff, said in a statement the new law could drain "billions" from public schools.
"Once again, we see Gov. DeSantis putting his political ambitions ahead of Floridians, including our students," FEA President Andrew Spar said "We are deeply concerned that children will pay the ultimate price for the governor's politics."
LIVE LOCAL ACT ALSO LAW
A $711 million affordable housing plan — is now a reality in Florida. DeSantis put his name on the bill Wednesday morning in Naples.
Live Local Act uses various programs and tax credits to encourage the development of more affordable workforce housing in the state.
Among its provisions is a second year of the Hometown Heroes program helping with closing costs and down payments for law enforcement and first responders. Plus low interest loans for developers to flip underused properties into housing.
Passidomo spearheaded the effort to ensure, she said, that more can live where they work in a state with an affordability crisis.
"We don't have one solution to the problem— but the Live Local Act is an amazing multifaceted, 106-page bill of ideas and suggestions on how we can provide affordable safe housing for our workers," she said.
Opponents have taken issue with the bill's stripping of the local authority on rent control. Even so, the measure received wide bipartisan support. Some of its provisions take effect immediately while others come online in July.
DOES FLORIDA STILL SWING?
The chair of the Democratic National Committee said the party isn't counting out Florida despite major losses by Democrats during the 2022 midterm elections.
It's hard to overstate how bad things went for Democrats last November. Republicans grabbed a supermajority in the state Legislature. They swept the Florida Cabinet. They kept a U.S. Senate seat — and the governor’s office by almost 20 points.
Even so, DNC Chair Jamie Harrison and the new head of the Florida Democrats, Chair Nikki Fried, said Thursday, the Sunshine State is still in play. They vowed to put focus on reclaiming seats in the state Legislature in the coming elections.
The two attributed last year's failures to poor turnout and a weak ground game. Harrison said that would change with Fried at the helm, despite Fried's predecessor believing 2022 was, in part, a result of limited support from national Democrats.
Harrison rebuffed that criticism.
"This is a thing that — in rebuilding parties — it's not about having the national party float in with a magic wand," Harrison said. "It's about building up the local infrastructure. Nikki Fried understands that — you have to have the grassroots organizations all in alignment, we are going to work with her and continue to work with her. There are going to be investments from the national Democratic party, but there's also — the resurgence of the local party. That’s the heart of transforming Florida."
The elephant in the room is a possible 2024 presidential bid for Florida's governor. Both chairs believed DeSantis' policies were too extreme to translate on the national level. Fried thought Floridians were ready to move on from DeSantis, saying controversial legislation this year like a six-week abortion ban and permitless carry, crossed a line with the majority of Floridians.
"He's taken the supermajorities in both chambers to such an extreme — and the pendulum is going to swing back — and swing back very fast in the state of Florida," Fried said. "It's going to be the Democrats who are going to be ready to capture it."
The Republican Party of Florida was quick with a statement on Harrison's visit:
"Desperate Nikki Fried should be embarrassed to host do-nothing DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, who ignored Florida Democrats during the midterms, but is getting off the couch for once to attend a (socially distanced?)fundraiser to try to save the job of the worst president in decades."
That fundraiser was in Tallahassee Wednesday night. Harrison said he would be back in the coming months as the party prepares for 2024.