Saturday, February 4, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his surgeon gene


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Over the last 24 hours, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made it harder for transgender people to get Medicaid support, canceled funding for a Tampa Bay Rays practice stadium because of the team’s anti-gun violence tweet and threatened the Special Olympics with a $27.5 million fine over coronavirus vaccine requirements.

He shooed away protesters who demanded action on gun violence by telling them that “nobody wants to hear from you,” and he also signed the state’s largest budget at $101.5 billion.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at a news conference Friday, highlighting the state’s robust economy, buoyed by high tourism numbers and an infusion of federal covid relief money. “I’s a good place to be.”

But critics say DeSantis (R) is ignoring real issues in the state to wage a war against “wokeness” that mainly appeals to his Republican base. DeSantis is up for reelection in November and is seen by many as a possible presidential candidate in 2024.

“It’s a continuation of the DeSantis chaos tour. He doesn’t govern; he performs,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando. “In the process, he dunks on groups of marginalized people as he continues to fuel the culture war flames.”

Eskamani was one of the protesters outside of a ticketed event in Orlando on Thursday night where DeSantis appeared with conservative commentator Dave Rubin. DeSantis, who supports changing Florida gun laws to allow people to carry firearms without a permit, has not commented on the mass shooting in Uvalde, Tex., which left 19 children and two teachers dead.

Florida has been the site of some of the nation’s most gruesome mass shootings. In 2016, 49 people were killed by a shooter in Pulse night club, a haven for the city’s gay community. Two years later, a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

DeSantis said last month that he would sign a “constitutional carry” law if it was presented to him during a special session of the legislature he called, which began May 23. The massacre in Uvalde occurred May 24, and the gun issue did not come up in the Florida legislature.

As DeSantis spoke on Friday, he was flanked by several Special Olympics athletes who had been told they couldn’t compete at the organization’s Florida event this weekend because they hadn’t been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The state Department of Health said it was assessing a fine of nearly $30 million against Special Olympics International for 5,500 alleged violations of the anti-vaccine mandate law DeSantis created last year.

The organization initially required all participants to be vaccinated, a violation of Florida law, which bans “vaccine passports” and carries a fine of $5,000 for each person a business or government agency requires to show a proof of vaccination.

The organization canceled the vaccine requirement on Thursday “based on the Florida Department of Health’s interpretation of Florida law,” a spokeswoman said.

The notice of the fine came nine days before the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics USA Games being held in Orlando on June 5, according to Special Olympics spokeswoman Rebecca Simon. She said the event, which draws 5,000 athletes from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, didn’t see a drop off in registrations because of the vaccine requirement.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo appeared alongside DeSantis on Friday and said the vaccine requirement “makes zero sense.” He falsely claimed that vaccines provide “basically zero protection from infection.” (Studies show that vaccines remain highly effective at preventing serious illness and death from the coronavirus.)

Neither Ladapo nor DeSantis addressed the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state. More than 76,000 people in Florida have died of covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The DeSantis administration addressed a different health issue Thursday, releasing a report from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration that concluded Medicaid dollars should not be used to pay for gender-affirming care for transgender people because such treatments are not safe. That conclusion contradicts leading medical advice.

The report paves the way for DeSantis to enact a rule that would ban Medicaid coverage for transgender people of any age.

“This is a dangerous escalation of his assault on transgender Floridians,” said Brandon Wolf, press secretary for Equality Florida. Wolf described DeSantis’s rhetoric about transgender people as “incredibly dehumanizing,” suggesting it was a “quest to stir up right-wing fervor.”

Wolf, who is a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting, also decried DeSantis’s veto of $150,000 for mental health resources for other survivors of the Pulse massacre.

“In a year when they have enough money to go around for all kinds of things, it was such a minuscule amount for those resources that, when he vetoed it, it was hard for that not to feel personal,” Wolf said.

That budget item was one of $3 billion in expenditures approved by the GOP-led legislature but vetoed by DeSantis. Another item: $35 million for a new spring training camp for the Tampa Bay Rays. The veto came a week after the team called for action on gun safety laws in the wake of the Uvalde mass shooting.

DeSantis is a baseball fan whose youth team went to the Little League World Series. He also played at Yale and on the GOP baseball team when he served in Congress. Last week, his election campaign offered Ron DeSantis “Classic Baseball Cards” for $49.

But the Rays lost state funding for their spring training camp because, DeSantis said, it would not have been a “prudent use” of tax dollars.

“It’s also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation,” he said.

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