Throughout this year’s session, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature has pushed through several pieces of legislation that are considered big policy wins for GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis.
With the governor set to announce his bid for the White House Wednesday evening, here’s a breakdown of the key bills he signed during and after the 2023 regular legislative session.
Sweeping elections package
He signed 20 bills on Wednesday ahead of his 2024 announcement, including a sweeping elections package that contains an amendment that will pave the way for his presidential campaign while allowing him to remain as governor.
The amendment intends to clarify existing state law so that any person in public office running for president or vice president of the United States is exempt from resigning.
The broad elections bill that passed the legislature at the end of April has been met with controversy, largely focused on the array of new restrictions that it seeks to impose on voter registration groups. Florida lawmakers had been poised to include protections against harassment for election workers, but conservative activists worked to kill those efforts.
Six-week abortion ban
Exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking exist for up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy, but there is a caveat: Women “must provide a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation providing evidence.” Additionally, after six weeks, two physicians can certify in writing that the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life or to “avert a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”
At a March news conference, DeSantis called the proposed exceptions “sensible.”
Though enacted, the six-week ban won’t take effect until 30 days after the state Supreme Court either overturns its previous precedent on abortion or tosses out cases from Planned Parenthood and abortion rights activists challenging the existing 15-week abortion ban.
Concealed carry without a permit
Under the law, which will take effect July 1, gun owners are allowed to carry a gun in public without a government-issued permit.
“You don’t need a permission slip from the government to be able to exercise your constitutional rights,” DeSantis said at a March event to promote his new book at a gun store in Georgia.
The law also ends an existing state requirement to undergo training before carrying a concealed weapon outside the home.
The government-issued permit remains available for those who wish to obtain one. And it would remain illegal to carry a firearm in certain gun-free zones, including schools, courthouses and college campuses.
Some gun rights advocates have said that the law doesn’t go far enough, while Florida Democrats have criticized DeSantis for signing the public safety bill, arguing that it achieves the opposite.
Eliminating unanimous jury decisions for death penalty
DeSantis in April signed a bill that eliminated unanimous jury decisions for the death penalty, making Florida the state with the lowest threshold for administering capital punishment.
Under the new law, “if at least eight jurors determine that the defendant should be sentenced to death, the jury’s recommendation to the court must be a sentence of death.”
If fewer than eight jurors recommend the death penalty, the law requires the court to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”
In January, DeSantis vowed to rid Florida of unanimous 12-member jury decisions for the death penalty, citing the verdict in the Parkland school shooting as a miscarriage of justice. The shooter was sentenced to life in prison without parole rather than death, due to three jurors recommending against the death penalty.
“Today’s change in Florida law will hopefully save other families from the injustices we have suffered,” said Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed in the Parkland shooting.
Capital sexual battery
On May 1, DeSantis signed a bill that makes child rapists eligible for the death penalty with the minimum sentence of life in prison without parole.
According to the measure, “a person 18 years of age or older who commits sexual battery upon, or in an attempt to commit sexual battery injures the sexual organs of, a person less than 12 years of age commits a capital felony.”
“We’re putting pedophiles to death, hopefully,” DeSantis said, before sitting down to sign the bill in Titusville, Florida.
The law runs afoul of a 2008 US Supreme Court decision prohibiting states from applying the death penalty for child rape if the victim did not die.
“We think that in the worst of the worst cases, the only appropriate punishment is the ultimate punishment, and so this bill sets up a procedure to be able to challenge that precedent,” DeSantis said at the time.
Sweeping crackdown on immigration
DeSantis on May 10 signed a sweeping crackdown on unlawful immigration that’s designed to deter undocumented individuals from showing up in the state.
Under the law, which takes effect in July, transporting someone who has entered the country illegally could be punished with a 5-year prison sentence or a $5,000 fine per person. It also requires companies with at least 25 employees to check the immigration status of workers against a federal database called E-Verify and creates penalties for employers who knowingly employ “unauthorized aliens.”
Additionally, it repeals a law that allowed undocumented individuals to become lawyers in the state and it bans them from driving in Florida, even if they have a license issued by another state. Hospitals will have to ask about the immigration status of all patients on admission forms.
DeSantis did not get everything he wanted in the bill. He had pushed to eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented residents – which had been championed by his predecessor, now-Sen. Rick Scott, and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez when she was in the state legislature – but Republicans balked at the proposal. Lawmakers also axed a proposal that would have made it illegal to transport an undocumented person within the state, a provision that opponents said would have targeted families dropping kids off at school and charities that aid migrant workers.
However, the requirement for businesses to check the status of its workforce fulfilled a promise DeSantis made when he first ran for governor in 2018. DeSantis’ push for E-verify pitted him against the state’s powerful hospitality, restaurant and agriculture industries, which have teamed up to block similar requirements in the past.
Limiting China’s influence in Florida
On May 8, DeSantis signed bills aimed at limiting China’s influence in Florida, including blocking TikTok on all government and education institution servers and devices and prohibiting China and “other foreign countries of concern” from purchasing farmland and land 10 miles within military installations.
“Florida makes it very clear, we don’t want the CCP in the Sunshine State. We want to maintain this as the Free State of Florida, that’s exactly what these bills are doing,” DeSantis said at the bill signing in Brooksville, Florida.
“We believe protecting our food supply is a security issue, and we want to make sure that our agricultural land is not compromised by CCP influence,” DeSantis said, referring to the bill banning farmland purchases. “We don’t want the CCP in charge of any food production.”
The law prohibits land purchases by China or other “foreign countries of concern” within 10 miles of any type of “critical infrastructure,” including seaports, airports, powerplants, space ports, chemical manufacturing and telecom systems.
DeSantis already signed an executive order that blocks TikTok and other foreign-owned apps from state government devices and networks, but this extends to all levels of government, including local, and state universities.
SB 258 doesn’t name TikTok specifically, but it blocks the use of applications from “foreign countries of concern” that, among other things, collect keystrokes or personal, financial or other business data, conduct surveillance and tracking of an individual or use “algorithmic modifications to conduct disinformation or misinformation campaigns.”
Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and Syria are also named as “foreign countries of concern.”
Additionally, DeSantis signed a measure that prohibits state universities and colleges from accepting grants from a “foreign country of concern.”
Restricting transgender Floridians’ access to treatments and bathrooms
On May 17, DeSantis signed into law new restrictions on gender-affirming treatments for transgender minors, drag shows, bathroom usage and which pronouns can be used in school.
“We are going to remain a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy, and kids should have an upbringing that reflects that,” DeSantis said at the time.
LGBTQ advocates in the state criticized the legislation as a larger effort to erase them from Florida schools and society.
“DeSantis has just signed into law the largest slate of anti-LGBTQ bills in one legislative session in the state’s history,” said Joe Saunders, senior political director of Equality Florida. “This is an all out attack on freedom.”
As a candidate for governor in 2018, DeSantis dismissed legislative battles to legislate transgender people as a distraction he would avoid if elected.
“Getting into bathroom wars, I don’t think that’s a good use of our time,” he said at a GOP primary forum hosted by the Florida Family Policy Council, a Christian right organization.
But as he’s geared up for a White House bid, DeSantis has seized on these battles, which have become an animating feature of his pitch to Republican primary voters.
One measure prohibits transgender children from receiving gender-affirming treatments, including prescriptions that block puberty hormones or sex-reassignment surgeries. Under the law, a court could intervene to temporarily remove a child from their home if they receive gender-affirming treatments or procedures, and it treats such health care options, which are supported by the American Medical Association, the same as it would a case of child abuse.
He also signed a provision restricting teachers, faculty and students from using the pronouns of their choice in public schools. That bill declares that it must be the policy of all schools that “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait” and “it is false” to use a pronoun other than the sex on a person’s birth certificate. It also affirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be taught in schools through eighth grade, codifying a state Board of Education decision to block such topics in all K-12 grades.
Separate legislation would give the DeSantis administration the power to take away licenses from establishments if they allow children into an “adult live performance,” widely interpreted as a crackdown on drag shows. Another prohibits transgender people from using a bathroom or changing room that matches their gender identity while in government buildings, including in places like public schools, prisons and state universities.
Shielding state travel records from public disclosure
DeSantis signed a bill on May 11 that exempts records related to his travel from the state’s robust public disclosure law.
Under the new law, law enforcement agencies would be barred from sharing any records related to the governor’s security and travel, as well as “for persons for whom such services are requested by the governor.” The expansive language could allow the DeSantis administration to keep secret trips arranged by the governor’s office even when he wasn’t involved.
The law applies retroactively and would cover his extensive use of state planes throughout his time as governor. It would also cover records related to visitors to the governor’s mansion, opponents said.
Republicans said the measure was necessary to prevent details about his travel habits and security detail from falling into the hands of people who might be plotting an attack on the governor. But such information has long been public record in Florida, a state where public access to state records and meetings is enshrined in its constitution.
Defunding DEI programs at all state universities
On May 15, he signed legislation to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs at all state universities, calling those programs a “distraction from the core mission.”
Under the law, Florida state universities are barred from spending state or federal funds to promote, support or maintain any programs that “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism.”
The law also says general education courses “may not distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics” based on “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”
Blocking Florida investments based on ESG factors
DeSantis signed a bill on May 2 that expands upon measures to block Florida investments based on environmental, social and governance, or ESG, factors while threatening banks and other financial institutions with sanctions if they deny business to people due to moral or political objections.
“ESG is officially DOA in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said as he signed the bill in Jacksonville.
The new law codifies a measure approved last year by the State Board of Administration, which oversees pensions, that prohibits state retirement fund managers from making investment decisions based on reasons other than maximizing the highest rate of return.
“It takes what we did last year with Florida’s Pension Fund, and it codifies into law the idea that the fiduciary obligation is to produce the best returns possible for the beneficiaries, not to be diverted in that task by pursuing these ideological agendas,” DeSantis said.
Under the law, financial institutions, including banks, credit unions and other lenders, face fines if they refuse to lend to people for reasons other than “an analysis of risk factors unique to each current or prospective customer.” Under the law, banks that operate in Florida could face punishment if they refuse to lend to gun manufacturers, fossil fuel companies or certain far-right groups.
Voiding land agreements
DeSantis signed a bill that would allow an appointed board to review and void previous land agreements in the state – which could impact Disney’s special taxing district in Orlando.
According to the bill, a newly appointed board can nullify agreements with special districts put in place up to three months before the board was installed. It also says newly installed boards “shall review within 4 months of taking office any development agreement or any other agreement…[and] vote on whether to seek readoption of such agreement.”
Ahead of a state takeover of Disney’s special taxing district, the company reached an agreement with an outgoing board to shift much of the power in the district to Disney. DeSantis appointees on the new board voted to nullify those agreements, which prompted Disney to sue. (Shortly after, the DeSantis-aligned board voted to sue the company.)
This story has been updated on May 24 with additional developments.
CNN’s Fredreka Schouten, Sydney Kashiwagi, Sara Smart and Melissa Alonso contributed to this story.