Weekly Florida Roundup: We Are the Champions
2TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis is back home in Florida after dropping out of the presidential race, but he nailed two courthouse victories this week — including a win in his high-profile court clash with the state’s most famous mouse.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit alleging that the state unconstitutionally retaliated against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts because of the company’s opposition to a controversial education law.
Disney officials in 2022 objected to a new state law that restricted instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. The lawsuit, filed last year, alleged that the state retaliated against Disney with a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” against the company.
In a 17-page ruling, Winsor wrote that the entertainment giant did not have legal standing to pursue the lawsuit against DeSantis and state Commerce Secretary J. Alex Kelly, citing legal precedents preventing First Amendment retaliation claims against “facially constitutional” laws.
Winsor also rejected claims against the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, created by the Legislature last year to largely govern an area that includes Disney’s Central Florida properties.
The judge, in part, said that the disputed laws do not mention Disney and that their effects would go beyond Disney.
“The laws are directed at a special development district in which Disney operates,” Winsor wrote. “But as Disney acknowledges, it is not the district’s only landowner, and other landowners within the district are affected by the same laws.”
DeSantis’ office celebrated the ruling, with the governor’s spokesman Jeremy Redfern saying that the days of Disney “being placed above the law are long gone.”
“The federal court’s decision made it clear that Gov. DeSantis was correct: Disney is still just one of many corporations in the state, and they do not have a right to their own special government,” Redfern said. “In short — as long predicted, case dismissed.”
Disney quickly launched an appeal on Thursday. While the federal lawsuit was tossed out, Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District continue to battle in a separate case in Orange County circuit court.
Also on Wednesday, a federal judge refused to issue injunctions sought by pro-Palestinian student groups in First Amendment lawsuits against the state amid the war between Israel and Hamas.
The groups Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida and Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of South Florida launched the lawsuits after state university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues in October issued a “deactivation order” about the groups.
Rodrigues in the memo sought to link the organizations to the National Students for Justice in Palestine, and pointed to a state law that makes it a crime to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the students hadn’t shown that their speech had been chilled or that they faced imminent punishment. Walker’s ruling noted, in part, that the groups are continuing to meet and speak out.
WORKING 9 TO 5
The Florida House this week passed one of the 2024 legislative session’s most controversial bills, as members of the Republican-dominated chamber agreed to loosen work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The measure (HB 49) would eliminate a decades-old restriction on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than eight hours when school is scheduled the next day. It also would eliminate a restriction on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than 30 hours during a week when school is in session.
Bill sponsor Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, said the bill would give teens a choice to work up to 40 hours a week and that 24 other states have adopted similar measures.
The bill “simply creates opportunity and choice, most likely for those who are already working beyond 30 hours with a side hustle, working under the table through jobs with no benefits or protections,” Chaney said.
But Democrats said the bill, which is backed by groups such as the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, would hinder students’ education. They also said, in part, it is intended to use children to address labor shortages, including shortages of immigrant workers.
“What we’re doing here is creating a cheap workforce for big business,” Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, said.
Democrats unsuccessfully proposed a series of amendments, such as proposals that would have required rest breaks every five hours for workers under 18 and required that employers provide to parents a list of their children’s duties and wages.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee this week approved a version of the bill (SB 1596) that would not go as far as the House proposal. For example, the Senate plan would not eliminate the prohibition on working more than 30 hours in a week when school is in session.
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, expressed support Thursday for the Senate’s approach.
“We want to allow students, our kids that want to work to do that,” Passidomo said. “Our number one priority is to make sure they don’t sacrifice their education time. And that they have parental consent. Real parental consent. Not the fake ones where they (teens) write them themselves.”
House Speaker Paul Renner this week said lawmakers will revise a bill aimed at keeping children off social media, as state leaders prepare to try to fend off expected legal challenges.
The House overwhelmingly passed the bill (HB 1) last week, but DeSantis later raised legal concerns about the “breadth” of the measure. The bill, in part, would prevent minors under 16 from creating social media accounts.
“We’re working very, very closely with the Senate, very closely with the governor’s team to get to a bill that will be upheld by the courts,” Renner, R-Palm Coast, told reporters Thursday evening. “We’re very mindful of all the legal challenges that will be raised and could be raised. But we do believe from the input we’ve been getting that our bill is in a unique position, that this is a better effort than previous state efforts (in other parts of the country). And with that, we have some confidence that we will succeed once a challenge is brought.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: In a win for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a federal judge Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit alleging that the state unconstitutionally retaliated against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts because of the company’s opposition to a controversial education law.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You need meat, OK. And we’re going to have meat in Florida. … We’re not going to have fake meat. Like that doesn’t work.” — Gov. Ron DeSantis, expressing support for an effort to prevent lab-grown meat from being made or sold in Florida
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