TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) - While Gov. Ron DeSantis is focused on the COVID-19 crisis, that hasn’t delayed activists and groups from calling for vetoes of bills that will be heading his way after the legislative session ended last week.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist wants DeSantis to veto legislation targeting e-cigarettes (SB 810).
Supporters of the group 1000 Friends of Florida are being encouraged to tell DeSantis to nix a bill (SB 410) that would change how most county governments manage growth.
On Monday, a coalition of voting-rights groups called on DeSantis to reject a measure (SB 1794) that would impose a series of new restrictions on ballot initiatives.
“In the midst of a global health crisis, any limitation to a citizen's right to direct democracy seems unjust,” said a letter from the coalition, which includes organizations such as the League of Women Voters of Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the Florida AFL-CIO, Florida Conservation Voters, the NAACP Florida State Conference and the Sierra Club Florida.
“The disconnect felt between average citizens and their elected officials is often bridged by citizen initiatives,” the letter said. “It is unwise to enact legislation that limits that power. Ultimately, this proposal places undue burdens on the citizens of Florida.”
The targeted bills are among 197 measures, including a $93.2 billion budget (HB 5001), that as of Tuesday morning had not been formally sent to DeSantis from the annual session. DeSantis can sign or veto bills or allow them to become law without his signature.
DeSantis’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about whether his focus on deadly COVID-19 will interrupt the bill-review process.
Already, DeSantis has delayed his selection of two new Florida Supreme Court justices from a Monday deadline to May 1. But with this year’ s legislative session starting in January and ending in March, he has a little more time to take action on bills.
The majority of the bills, including the budget, would go into effect July 1.
House spokesman Fred Piccolo said in a text Monday that no delays are expected. Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said lawmakers are working with the governor’s office to time the delivery of bills as he leads the state’s response to COVID-19.
“We will coordinate with the governor’s office to send the bills over as they are ready to receive them, understanding that the first priority at this point is the governor’s role in leading our state’s response to and continuing to prepare for impacts from the virus,” Betta said in an email Monday. “In terms of staffing, with the delayed end of session, the engrossing and enrolling process for the Senate bills is largely complete at this time and the president (Senate President Bill Galvano) signed the majority of the bills before he returned to Bradenton last week.”
Lawmakers approved 206 proposals --- 80 Senate bills and 126 House bills --- during the session, which ended Thursday, nearly a week later than expected.
DeSantis quickly signed nine bills that had been sent to his desk before the virus took hold of the state in the final weeks of the session. They included three health-care bills (HB 389, HB 599 and HB 607) that were a top priority of House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and a bill (HB 1087) to eliminate a state contract with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which faces financial probes.
In the fight against the e-cigarette legislation, Norquist, a national conservative figure, is backing the Vapor Technology Association in opposing flavor ban portions of the bill.
“If signed, this legislation would destroy small businesses and result in higher smoking rates, a loss for economic productivity and human lives,” Norquist wrote last week in a letter accompanying an association assertion that more than 4,500 Floridians would be put out of work by the bill.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic already closing down businesses throughout the United States and Florida, now more than ever is the time to support, not close, hundreds of small businesses,” added association Executive Director Tony Abboud in a news release.
The legislation would largely bring the state into compliance with federal laws about electronic cigarettes. The measure would identify e-cigarettes and vaping products as “tobacco products” and raise the age to purchase any tobacco products --- including tobacco cigarettes, dip and chew, as well as e-cigarettes --- from 18 to 21.
The proposal mirrors federal law by banning flavored vape products, with the exception of menthol or tobacco flavors. Health officials have accused e-cigarette manufacturers of targeting teens with flavors and packaging designed to appeal to young people.
As for the Republican-backed series of restrictions on ballot initiatives, the proposal includes increasing a petition-signature threshold to trigger Florida Supreme Court reviews, requiring all ballot measures --- including those placed on the ballot by the Legislature --- to have statements about potential impacts on the state budget and allowing county elections supervisors to charge more to verify petition signatures.
Rep. James Grant, who sponsored the proposal, said the changes to the process are designed to “protect the Constitution and preserve the republic.”
Boosting the number of signatures to trigger the court review “simply says you’ve got to get a little bit further down the process … so we don’t waste time on something that’s not going to pass muster,” Grant, R-Tampa, said as the House passed the bill this month.