TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The arrest of two high-ranking Democrats. A six-week abortion ban is a step from Gov. Ron DeSantis' pen. Plus, the next round in Florida's fight with Disney gets underway.
Here's a recap of what happened in week five of Florida's legislative session.
PERMITLESS CARRY BECOMES LAW
Behind closed doors the governor signed Florida's permitless carry bill into law Monday morning. Starting July 1, legal gun owners will be allowed to carry concealed firearms without the currently required permit and training.
Republicans have said it's a big step forward for gun rights. They also tout the policy's numerous public safety provisions — like the expansion of Florida's guardian program to private schools.
"We are taking care of our right to bear arms, our Second Amendment rights," Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, who sponsored the bill said. "We are allowing people to protect their families."
Democrats, however, think more gun violence is on the way.
Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, said the policy was a step backward for Florida's safety.
"The thing that concerns me the most about this bill is we took away any training requirement," Berman said. "Now anybody can have a locked and loaded gun in this state with no training."
Some gun advocates have pushed for Republicans to go further this year and offer open carrying of firearms. The idea hasn't gotten traction. Several high-ranking Republicans have opposed the idea, including the Senate president who has cited opposition by law enforcement.
ABORTION BAN COMING SOON?
Despite protestors briefly interrupting things at the Capitol on Monday afternoon, Florida's Senate approved a six-week abortion ban, sending it to the House where it awaits a final vote.
If signed by the governor— SB 300 cuts the current 15-week ban back to six weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest, human trafficking and fatal fetal conditions.
Republicans have stressed that six weeks is around the time cardiac activity is detected, calling it a heartbeat.
"The unborn child is a living human being and it deserves the same rights and protections as any other individual," Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, said.
But six weeks is also so early that many may not know they're pregnant. It's why Democrats warn women will be forced to turn to unsafe alternatives if the bill becomes law.
"You're choosing to give sacks of cells — a yoke — more rights than living, breathing, women and girls in this state," Sen. Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said.
In the end, two Republicans jumped party lines to vote with Democrats, Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, and Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami. However, it wasn't enough, and the GOP supermajority came through again.
The House is expected to take up the ban for a final vote when lawmakers return for the second half of the legislative session following the Easter holiday.
Even with the governor's expected signature, the six-week ban won't take effect until the Florida Supreme Court weighs in on the legality of the state's current 15-week law. Justices will mull whether Florida's broad privacy protections — including abortion — potentially strike down both bans.
HIGH-RANKING DEMS ARRESTED
Political stunt or political action? Opinions are divided after Monday night's dramatic arrest of two high-ranking state Democrats, who were protesting a new abortion ban that's making its way through the legislature.
In what's now a viral video, viewers can see the new chair of the Florida Democrats, Nikki Fried, and Lauren Book getting arrested by Tallahassee police outside City Hall. Authorities said in a statement they acted after multiple warnings, dating back to Friday.
Along with nine others, law enforcement took Fried and Book to a county facility and charged the group with misdemeanor trespassing before releasing them later in the night on their own recognizance. The group had been holding a "sit-in" protest across the street from the state Capitol, opposing a six-week abortion ban that's nearing DeSantis' desk and expected signature.
"What is it John Lewis used to say?" Fried said in an interview with us Tuesday. "Sometimes good trouble is necessary."
Fried, who is also the former Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, considered six weeks a near-total ban on abortion. She, like many Democrats in the Legislature, worries women will turn to unsafe options as many may not know they are pregnant until too late.
"If it means us raising the temperature and the level of engagement and awareness of what is happening here in the State of Florida— the supposedly 'free' state of Florida — it was worth it," Fried said.
Critics have pointed out her party posted fundraising tweets during the arrest. It has Florida Republicans calling the protest "a classic political stunt."
Florida GOP Chair Christian Ziegler is among them. In his eyes, what happened was a photo op.
"It's really all the Democrat party has," Ziegler said. "I mean, they can do stunts. They can't win elections. They can't register voters. The Democrat Party is just decimated in the state of Florida."
Lawmakers back at the Capitol were mixed on what happened. House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, kept things generic Tuesday afternoon when he was asked about the arrest.
"I don't know what the circumstances of that were," Renner said. "I don't know if they wanted to get arrested for reasons they might see as advantageous."
Democratic colleagues saw things differently. House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell called the arrest an "inspiring moment."
"I just think that any attention that we can draw to this really bad policy is a good thing," she said. "Peaceful attention, right?"
Either way, Fried and Book now face separate court dates in the coming weeks. The chair, meanwhile, vowed not to let up on the issue.
"We're going to continue to be loud until we start making these changes and watch this pendulum swing back to the middle," Fried said.
In Florida, misdemeanor trespassing convictions can get you probation or up to 60 days in jail, plus hundreds of dollars in fines.
DISNEY VS. DESANTIS REDUX
Florida's governor is now vowing to levy new tolls and taxes on the House of Mouse. It's the latest threat from the Republican as he and Disney continue their fight, sparked by the company's resistance to a 2022 law regulating sex education in the state.
While speaking at Hillsdale College on Thursday night, DeSantis said legislative action was coming and that hotel taxes and toll roads may be included.
That comes after the former Reedy Creek board ceded much of its authority for Disney's special district to company officials. It happened just before a new state board could take over.
DeSantis doubled down on that warning Friday while speaking in Ocala.
"There will be additional legislative action taken in Tallahassee that will nullify what they tried to do at the eleventh hour," DeSantis said. "Then, potentially, arm the board with the ability to make sure this is run appropriately."
Democrats from the Orlando area have condemned DeSantis' latest round of threats.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, warned DeSantis may end up hurting Floridians more than Mickey Mouse.
"Any new tax you apply to a company will be passed down to the consumer," Eskamani said. "Bottom line."
It's unclear if or when a new Disney bill may surface. Republicans said a review of the situation is ongoing.
Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, told us this week change may take a court battle, but he kept the door open for a new Disney bill.
"If there's anything we can do legislatively — we should look at it," Hutson said.
Renner also endorsed the legislative action idea on Twitter. But Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, last week, seemed less committed to finding an answer as soon as possible.
"We've got a lot on our plate for the rest of this session," Passidomo said. "I don’t anticipate doing anything in the near term."