Nov 5, 2023 - Politics

Florida lawmakers head to special session on Iran sanctions urged by DeSantis

Photo illustration of Ron DeSantis flanked by the Israel flag, the Florida capitol building and a map of the Middle East.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Florida lawmakers will descend on the Capitol Monday for a four-day special session aimed at imposing stiffer sanctions against Iran and reaffirming support for Israel after the surprise attack by Hamas last month.

Why it matters: Critics see Gov. Ron DeSantis' move to further cut economic ties with Iran as an attempt to bolster his presidential campaign, which has struggled to gain momentum.

  • Legislators on both sides of the aisle have called the governor's proposals "symbolic." Florida has prohibited state agencies and local governments from conducting business with companies linked to Iran since 2008.

Between the lines: DeSantis hasn't shied away from using his post to wade into the overseas conflict. He's used state funds to evacuate Florida residents from Israel and claimed to have facilitated a shipment of weapons to the country.

  • The special session also kicks off ahead of Wednesday's Republican presidential debate in Miami.
  • It offers him a chance to reinforce his foreign policy credentials, which have come under scrutiny from some Republicans over his criticism of U.S. aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia.
  • Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt is moderating Wednesday's debate. His questions about foreign policy stumped Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, leading to perhaps the most viral moment of his short-lived campaign.

Flashback: DeSantis deflected calls from Democratic lawmakers to build upon the punitive measures imposed on Russia by the federal government.

  • More than 20 states issued orders to divest assets in Russian-based entities or examine and terminate state contracts with Russian companies. Florida wasn't one of them.

Be smart: The Israel-focused session comes at a precarious time for Florida Democrats, who are struggling to stage a comeback after a Republican blowout in last year's midterm election. The issue has sparked a divide within the party between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel factions.

What they're saying: "This is one of several attempts by the governor to take action on international events to try to impress potential Republican primary caucus voters," said Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor and longtime observer of Florida politics.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried called the Iran sanctions a "distraction."

  • "The federal government has imposed serious sanctions on Iran for nearly fifty years — adding state-level sanctions is just another political stunt meant to make Ron look tough," she told Axios.

The other side: DeSantis has defended the sanctions as far more than political theater. "These will be, by far, the strongest Iran sanctions that any state has enacted of all 50 states throughout this country," he said Oct. 10.

  • "Unlike the critics, we will be using this special session to deliver results for Floridians," DeSantis spokesperson Jeremy Redfern told Axios.

Zoom in: The special session will also consider bills to assist those impacted by Hurricane Idalia and up the number of students with disabilities allowed to enroll in the school voucher program.

  • The state Legislature may spend as much as a half-billion dollars on these bills, Politico's Gary Fineout reported. $35 million would go toward emergency funding to strengthen the security of Jewish institutions.
  • The My Safe Florida Home Program may also receive additional funding to help people make their homes more hurricane-resistant.

Of note: None of the Florida-specific bills were proposed by the governor.

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