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Florida's Republican-dominated legislature kicks off its 2023 session


Today, Florida's Legislature begins a new session, and people are watching, in part because of whose agenda they are following.


Governor Ron DeSantis has a Republican supermajority. Its members have largely followed his priorities in the past, and they plan to do it again. So how could they influence Florida and the country?

INSKEEP: WFSU's Lynn Hatter is covering this story from Tallahassee, the state capital. Hey there, Lynn.

LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: What makes this session all about DeSantis?

HATTER: Well, he is a rumored presidential contender. And he's consolidated power here to the degree that even if some Republicans may disagree with him privately, they're not going to say that publicly. And we're seeing a lot of bills that align with what the governor has said is his priority, which is combating what he sees as a, quote, "woke ideology" in public education and in government.

INSKEEP: How do lawmakers plan to do that?

HATTER: Well, they have a bill that would further limit what teachers can say in schools. It would expand the state's prohibition on discussing gender and teaching sexual identity from the third grade to the eighth grade. But it also forbids schools from using names and pronouns other than the ones assigned to a child at birth. We're also watching a bill related to public colleges and universities that would ban any major or minor in gender studies, intersectionality and critical race theory. The bill also bans DEI programs, except those that may be required by the federal government or ones that are meant for specific groups like military vets. Intersectionality is the idea that some people face discrimination in different ways, like Black women. And diversity, equity and inclusion - that's the name a lot of companies give to their efforts to include different kinds of people. So this bill would basically block all of that.

INSKEEP: And, of course, strike out at a lot of buzzwords that conservatives will use and criticize. Isn't the Legislature also promoting private schools?

HATTER: Yes. Now, Florida already lets some people use public money to pay for private school, and now the state is about to remove the income caps from those programs. And this would let every child in the state qualify for a private school scholarship or an education savings account that the family can use on related expenses.

INSKEEP: What else does the governor want from the Legislature?

HATTER: Well, Governor DeSantis says he's OK with open carry, which would allow people to openly walk around with firearms. We're also watching a lot of bills that deal with journalism, the media and free speech. One of those would presume that anything attributed to an anonymous source is false. And it lowers the threshold for who is considered a public figure. It would also make it easy for traditional public figures like politicians to sue journalists for defamation. The other bill would require anyone who writes about a state official and gets paid to do so to have to file with the state.

INSKEEP: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You'd have to register with the government before you could exercise your First Amendment right?

HATTER: Yes. Now, that bill exempts journalists and traditional media outlets. And it's basically meant for certain types of bloggers. As for whether it could pass, the sponsor is very insistent, but this one appears to have a lot less support than that first bill that targets traditional media.

INSKEEP: Lynn Hatter of WFSU in Tallahassee. Thanks for the update.

HATTER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And as the legislative session begins today, Governor DeSantis is delivering his State of the State address. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.