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New laws make DeSantis’ Florida more cruel and dangerous

New laws make DeSantis’ Florida more cruel and dangerous

New laws make DeSantis’ Florida more cruel and dangerous

Florida’s 2024 legislative session came to a grim conclusion this week, as nearly 180 new laws went into effect, many of them sweeping, pernicious and — with enduring right-wing majorities entrenched — virtually irreversible changes to the state’s quality of life. The result is a Florida that is less safe for workers, less culturally rich, more corrupt and less free, a sun-baked place where children can work long hours and local governments can’t protect workers from record heat, where police can police their own behavior, where the sea reclaims cities while the state erases “climate change” from its statutes. And, for reasons known only to the redneck legislator who proposed it, residents can now shoot black bears on impulse.

Nature has not cooperated with Tallahassee’s designs. While climate change terminology has now been officially removed from Florida’s policy books, South Florida is still recovering from a record-breaking round of monsoon rains in June, and the terrifying Hurricane Beryl (the earliest Category 5 Atlantic hurricane on record) serves as an ominous opening act for the storms to come.

These phenomena are not, as Gov. Ron DeSantis’s spokespeople have argued, ordinary rainy-season inconveniences. They are harbingers of the warmer, more dangerous world we are simultaneously creating and inheriting. No one is asking DeSantis or his legislative allies to change the climate — the Capitol is no place for miracles — but their denialism, reactive posturing, and obsession with culture-war catnip at the expense of solving real-world problems like the state’s broken private insurance market cost us all.

And when they’re not solving real-world problems, they’re busy inventing new ones: Lawmakers and the governor moved to block local governments from requiring private employers to offer heat protections and water breaks to their employees — because why, in a humid, agrarian state like Florida, parts of which have experienced record-breaking heat this summer, would any local government want to do that? that?

The erosion of local self-government — that is, the idea that local communities should have the power to govern themselves, a concept that helped lead Florida into modernity — has been a long-standing project of the state’s right-wing government, which is always seeking to expand its size and reach to ideologically diverse counties and cities. This centralization of power is the connective tissue of much of the most damaging legislation that either became law this week or will become law later this year.

For example, the ban on thermal protection systems worked for lawmakers on two levels: craven corporate loyalty (read: political donations) and elimination of local autonomy. They liked it so much that they did it twice: Another new law prevents cities from using their influence through public contracts to encourage private companies to adopt higher minimum wages, a ban that will cost real people real money.

But don’t worry: If heat-stricken parents can’t make ends meet, their teenage children can now work longer hours to help support the household — a nod from Florida to the Gilded Age ambitions of its elected officials.

Maybe some local communities want citizen review boards for the police and others don’t. That’s the way things are in a free society. But that doesn’t matter now: Only the police can organize those boards and elect their members.

Local ethics watchdogs will also be neutralized. That law, which DeSantis recently signed, does not go into effect until October, giving public officials room to maneuver to plan their fabulous misdeeds.

Public school teachers are now required to instruct students about the “growing threat” of communism, while Florida’s elected leaders interfere in the cause of Donald Trump, an insurrectionist and criminally inclined candidate. And teachers at so-called Classical Academies (charter schools with a marked conservative bent) can obtain watered-down certificates to qualify as Florida educators.

Chaplains can now volunteer to serve public school students, an idea that unsurprisingly drew high praise from the good people at the Satanic Temple, who are eager to offer their services to help Florida’s youth. “That’s not a religion,” King DeSantis denounced, perhaps unaware that the temple has quite the ecclesiastical status with the IRS.

Of course, DeSantis co-authored this sad chapter with his legislative allies. Where lawmakers failed to maximize their cruelty, DeSantis was quick to fill the void. His first-of-its-kind, sweeping veto of arts and culture funding (some $32 million in total) seems in tune with his ongoing battle against the modern world. Curiously, DeSantis sees sex everywhere: in books, art, movies, parties. A spurious fear that a tiny fraction of this arts funding might have gone to a salacious enterprise apparently motivated DeSantis’ veto, according to his account.

Florida is hotter, crueler, and more dangerous. It takes more money than ever to live here, and Florida offers fewer resources than ever to those without them. Florida’s diversity, once a great strength, has now been abandoned as a tool of Marxism, faucism, fascist techno-vaccinism, or some other kind of ism. Florida’s elected leaders once built coalitions; now they build walls and drive divisions between us. This state that was once the New South is now a Deep South through and through, Mississippi with more coast, Louisiana with less spice.

That’s the place Florida’s leaders are willing to fill in one crushing legislative session after another. For Floridians, it’s a tragedy. For politicians, it’s mission accomplished.

Nate Monroe is a columnist for USA Today in Florida. Follow him on Twitter @NateMonroeTUEmail him at [email protected].