Are Ron DeSantis’ Migrant Flights Legal?

“Two big legal questions are germane to the stunt: one relating to how migrants were induced to board flights and the other relating to using state funds. Legal experts, lawmakers, and the architects of the flights are now debating what was and wasn’t legally permissible about the scheme.
DeSantis, for his part, has said the migrant flights were “clearly voluntary.” Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DeSantis, shared with Axios a redacted consent form for the flight. That form mentions a “final destination of Massachusetts” and holds “the benefactor or its designated representatives harmless of all liability” incurred during the journey, which it says is meant to transport the signatory “to locations in sanctuary States.”

Though much of the form is translated into Spanish, the mention of Massachusetts as the final destination is not. The only mention of Massachusetts in the Spanish portion of the redacted document is a handwritten abbreviation: “MA.”

Three of the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard filed a lawsuit against DeSantis..alleging that Florida officials “made false promises and false representations” that if they “were willing to board airplanes to other states, they would receive employment, housing, educational opportunities, and other like assistance upon their arrival.” The lawsuit notes that a woman “gathered several dozen people…to sign a document in order to receive a $10 McDonald’s gift card.” Per the suit, the woman didn’t explain what the consent form said. Migrants interviewed by NPR also explained that the same woman promised they would be flown to Boston and receive expedited work papers if they boarded the flights in San Antonio.

With this background in mind, some commentators have suggested the flight scheme may have run afoul of Texas law. Under title 5, chapter 20 of the Texas penal code, the crime of “unlawful restraint,” or restricting someone’s movement without consent, includes actions that involve “force, intimidation, or deception.” An unlawful restraint offense is a misdemeanor, except when the victim is under 17 years old—then it’s a state jail felony. At least some of the migrants DeSantis sent to Martha’s Vineyard were children.

Legal experts surveyed by Politico suggested that federal criminal trafficking statutes weren’t relevant unless migrants were transported against their will. If coercion was involved, the legality becomes much murkier. “If someone is told, ‘Hey, get on the bus. We’re going to Chicago because we have a job for you’ and it’s not true, that person has been victimized,” said Steven Block, a Chicago lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney who dealt with trafficking and corruption cases.

The matter of state funds is at least slightly easier to distill. Florida’s 2021–2022 budget set aside $12,000,000 to implement “a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.” Funds that weren’t spent in 2021–2022 rolled over to be used for the same purpose in 2022–2023. This is the pot through which DeSantis financed the Martha’s Vineyard flights, and the governor says he’ll spend “every penny” of it to “make sure that we’re protecting the people of the state of Florida.”

The 2022–2023 spending bill explicitly provides money for transporting migrants “from this state.” That would seem to indicate an origin in Florida. But the Martha’s Vineyard flights originated in San Antonio, which DeSantis acknowledges. Florida Democrats are now questioning whether this rendered the flights illegal. They are attempting to block funding for the relocation effort. A potential sticking point is that the flights were routed through Crestview, Florida, before reaching Martha’s Vineyard, ostensibly to refuel.

Geography aside, the migrants’ immigration status may also clash with the Florida budget language. State Sen. Aaron Bean (R–Jacksonville) stated in March that the relocation scheme wouldn’t apply to people who had requested asylum in the U.S. after fleeing communist or socialist countries since “they are here lawfully.” Further, the 2022–2023 budget specifies that the relocation scheme only applies to people who are “unlawfully present” in the country.

After crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the migrants now suing DeSantis—all recent immigrants from Venezuela—turned themselves over to federal immigration officials, the lawsuit explains. Each has “active federal proceedings to adjudicate their immigration status,” which authorizes them to stay in the United States unless their immigration court proceedings determine otherwise.”

Ron DeSantis Oversteps His Authority by Suspending Tampa’s Elected Prosecutor

“As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his culture war campaign against abortion providers and members of the LGBT community, prosecutors who choose to defy the governor’s edicts may soon find themselves out of a job.
Last Thursday, DeSantis signed an executive order suspending Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, a progressive prosecutor who had previously pledged his office would not prosecute women seeking abortions or pursue criminal charges against those pursuing gender-affirming health care. “State Attorneys have a duty to prosecute crimes as defined in Florida law, not to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his personal agenda,” DeSantis said in a statement.

Warren was first elected in 2016, defeating a longtime Republican incumbent with the support of liberal donor George Soros. Despite clashing with law enforcement over his refusal to prosecute minor offenses, Warren was reelected in 2020. Warren has said he will fight the governor’s suspension in court.

Article 4, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution allows the governor to suspend local officials for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony” and to appoint a temporary successor. The Florida Senate must approve a permanent removal from office and confirm the governor’s replacement appointments.

Previous governors have reserved that power for extreme cases of incompetence and malfeasance. In the last weeks of his governorship, then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, suspended Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, a Democrat, after her office came under fire for its mismanagement of the 2018 midterm elections.

Snipes was the second consecutive Broward elections chief to receive a pink slip from Tallahassee; her predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, had been suspended by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in September 2003 after a task force report investigating her disastrous handling of the 2002 elections* revealed countless administrative failures in the county elections office, including hundreds of uncounted ballots found in filing cabinets and a gravely understaffed office. Neighboring Palm Beach County also saw their elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, receive the boot in January 2019, this time from DeSantis. Snipes and Bucher both resigned from their positions.

DeSantis also suspended embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel early in his tenure, after an investigation into the 2018 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting found Israel and the Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to the massacre with “incompetence” and “negligence.” He then appointed Coral Springs Sergeant Gregory Tony as Israel’s replacement. The Florida Senate officially removed Israel from office in October 2019.

However, suspending a prosecutor for using their discretion sets a troubling precedent. Many prosecutors across the U.S., including federal prosecutors, prioritize their resources to go after offenders who pose a threat to public safety and civil society. It is simply not possible for prosecutors to devote equal resources to every type of offense.

Even when prosecutors adopt policies that seem political, the governor has less extreme tools for making sure that justice is done. When former Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala, a Democrat now running for state attorney general, announced that her office would no longer pursue the death penalty, Gov. Scott reassigned 30 murder cases to a different State Attorney, prompting Ayala to sue.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Scott’s decision to reassign cases from Ayala’s office was a legitimate use of the governor’s powers. “The executive orders reassigning the death-penalty eligible cases in the Ninth Circuit to King fall well ‘within the bounds’ of the Governor’s ‘broad authority,'” the majority opinion explained. DeSantis himself used that same ruling to reassign homicide cases from Ayala’s office in 2020. However, neither governor suspended or removed her from her position.

What’s more, DeSantis has declined to use his executive authority to suspend sheriffs who refused to enforce gun restrictions. Meanwhile, DeSantis has allowed state education officials to ignore federal anti-discrimination laws designed to protect LGBT students and teachers in Florida public schools.

Many lawmakers have expressed concerns that the suspension encroaches on the separation of powers between the governor and local governments in the state, something they see as contradicting DeSantis’ messaging advertising his vision of a “free Florida.”

“Removing a duly elected official should be based on egregious actions—not political statements,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor tweeted in response to the governor’s executive order. Like many Democrats in the state, she believes that the governor is thwarting the will of voters in her city by suspending Warren. “In a free state, voters should choose their elected officials.””

Civil rights group files first lawsuit against DeSantis over ‘illegal’ migrant flights

“The 35-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Boston offers one of the most detailed accounts yet of how roughly 50 migrants found themselves on two planes that unexpectedly landed in Martha’s Vineyard last week, and trauma their new lawyers say they’ve suffered from their ordeal and from being thrust into the center of the national debate over immigration.

The plaintiffs include three Venezuelan migrants who boarded the planes to Martha’s Vineyard along with their family members as well as Alianza Americas, a Chicago-based advocacy group for Latino immigrant communities.

The complaint alleges that people working for DeSantis were “trolling streets outside of a migrant shelter in Texas and other similar locales, pretending to be good Samaritans offering humanitarian assistance,” including $10 McDonalds gift cards and free hotels while making “false promises and false representations” of employment, housing and educational opportunities awaiting the migrants in either Boston or Washington, D.C.

They were also allegedly told they would receive assistance with their immigration proceedings at their final destination and were “intentionally sequestered” before their departure from Texas “so they could not discuss the arrangement” and so that the migrants “would be less likely to leave or change their minds.”

Instead, the migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, where “no one” on the island or “anywhere in Massachusetts” knew they were coming. They were given pamphlets “lifting language” from the state’s Refugee Resettlement Program — which the lawsuit argues none of the migrants are eligible for. And the people who recruited the migrants for the flights were “unreachable by phone” after they landed in Massachusetts.

“These immigrants, who are pursuing the proper channels for lawful immigration status in the United States, experienced cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country,” the plaintiffs argue. “Defendants manipulated them, stripped them of their dignity, deprived them of their liberty, bodily autonomy, due process, and equal protection under law, and impermissibly interfered with the federal government’s exclusive control over immigration in furtherance of an unlawful goal and a personal political agenda.””

“DeSantis has continued to defend his actions, claiming last week that the migrants voluntarily boarded the flights and weren’t coerced. He has argued that Florida’s Republican-led Legislature approved $12 million to transport migrants out of the state, though Democrats have claimed the flights are improper uses of the allocated funds.”

Florida medical board moves to block gender affirming treatments for minors

“Florida’s medical board on Friday voted to begin the process of banning gender-affirming medical treatment for youths, a move that comes as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has become increasingly vocal in his opposition to such therapies.”

“The board also voted to start that process for requiring adults seeking such care to wait 24 hours before going forward with any medical procedures.”

“The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association support gender-affirming care for adults and adolescents. But medical experts said gender-affirming care for children rarely, if ever, includes surgery. Instead, doctors are more likely to recommend counseling, social transitioning and hormone replacement therapy.
The proposed rule is the latest step taken by the DeSantis administration to tighten regulatory controls over gender-affirming care. Florida’s Medicaid regulator is also considering a rule that would block state-subsidized health care from paying for treatments of transgender people.”

The Florida conservatives likely heading to Congress, thanks to DeSantis

“Several Florida conservatives who question President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory could be heading to Congress in November, thanks to the state’s contentious redistricting process muscled through the Legislature by Gov. Ron DeSantis.”

Taxpayers Pay the Price for DeSantis’ War on Disney

“In March, DeSantis signed into law H.B. 1577, which described itself as “an act relating to parental rights in education.” The bill limits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in public school instruction and authorizes parents to sue school districts that break the vaguely written rules.

Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek initially tried to keep the company publicly neutral on the bill. But after it passed, Chapek and Disney, responding to pressure from the company’s employees, both spoke out against H.B. 1577.

Irked by the criticism, DeSantis and Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature took aim at the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), which state lawmakers established in 1967 to give Disney substantial autonomy within the nearly 40 square miles it owns in Orange and Osceola counties. The special district allows Disney to control zoning, construction, infrastructure, emergency services, and taxation to pay for all of it.

While Florida has more than 1,800 special districts, Republicans targeted Disney by restricting the bill to districts established prior to 1968. DeSantis made it clear when he signed the bill that it was punishment for criticism of H.B. 1577. “You’re a corporation in Burbank, California, and you’re going to marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state,” he said. “We view that as a provocation, and we’re going to fight back.” The bill would dissolve the RCID and five other pre-1968 districts in 2023.

While DeSantis and other Florida Republicans seem to view the RCID as an undeserved privilege, it freed Orange and Osceola counties, along with their taxpayers, from responsibility for Disney’s massive park. For instance, Disney pays the Orange County Sheriff’s Office millions of dollars each year for policing services. Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings said it would be “catastrophic” for the county’s budget if it had to pay for first-responder services in the park. DeSantis suggested in May that the state could take over the district.

The RCID also has $1 billion in bond debt. In an April statement to bondholders, Reedy Creek representatives said the district cannot be dissolved under Florida law unless those debts are paid off.

What happens next is not entirely clear, although an early attempt by a group of nearby taxpayers to sue DeSantis was dismissed due to lack of standing. Some First Amendment scholars suggested that Disney could challenge the law as a form of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

No, Florida Republicans Do Not Care About Crony Capitalism

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed legislation that strips Walt Disney World of its independent, special-district status after the company objected to the state’s new law regarding discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms. While the motive behind this action is problematic, some of its supporters argue that there is nothing to fret about, since it was time to revoke a cronyist privilege granted to Disney 50 years ago anyway. But if this is really a fight against cronyism, the legislation goes about it the wrong way.

Cronyism is the unhealthy alliance of business and government. It takes the form of government officials at the state, local, and federal levels granting special privileges to particular companies or industries. These privileges can include special tax breaks, government loans, direct subsidies, or—as in Florida—so-called “special districts.” I spend a great deal of my work hours researching the harm cronyism causes to citizens. That’s because, as my colleague Matthew Mitchell wrote a decade ago, “Whatever its guise, government-granted privilege [to private businesses] is an extraordinarily destructive force. It misdirects resources, impedes genuine economic progress, breeds corruption, and undermines the legitimacy of both the government and the private sector.”

So, is Disney benefiting from a handout that should be stripped away? Yes, Disney certainly has been getting an incredible privilege to act as its own government within the limits of Orange and Osceola counties. For instance, it runs its fire department, administers planning and zoning rules, writes building codes, employs its own inspectors, and is exempted from local regulations and some $200 million in taxes. It levies the remainder of the taxes it owes.

Removing special district status means these types of responsibilities would be absorbed by the two counties in which Walt Disney World sits. Local taxpayers would then shoulder the cost for all municipal services on the property—a cost estimated to be $1 billion. The company, in turn, would be subjected to the same subpar local government services and regulations that most of us are accustomed to. In addition, Florida will be tied up in years of costly litigation to figure out how to disentangle the company from the counties.

But maybe untangling this special treatment is worth the cost. Just don’t expect it to result in a fairer regime. Indeed, if this setup is so unacceptable—a claim most Republicans didn’t seem to make for the half-century the special district has been in place—it should also be unacceptable for the other 1,844 Florida special districts. Of these, 1,288 are, like Disney, independent districts. But we aren’t hearing significant Republican complaints about these.

In other words, GOPers want to continue the practice of extending privileges selectively. What legislators should have done is decide whether any such special districts are a good idea. If so, access to them should be made available to any company that meets certain minimum and clear criteria and denied to any company that does not.”

“This episode should serve as a warning for companies angling to score special privileges from government. Governments give arbitrarily and unfairly, and they take back with equal arbitrariness and unfairness. In addition, when a company’s profitability depends heavily on government largesse, it must make sure not to anger its government overlords. Disney obviously failed to do that.

This sad affair has done nothing to change cronyism in the state of Florida, but it has once again exposed the arbitrariness of government in our lives and the cost of depending on its favors.”

DeSantis Calls for End of Walt Disney World’s Self-Rule

“By calling for the revocation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District while making note of the special exemption that the Republicans themselves gave Disney in the first place, DeSantis leans into using his office in an overt attempt to punish political opponents in the private sphere.

It may be good for culture war politicking, but one does have to consider whether Orange and Osceola counties are even interested in taking responsibility for providing mandatory public services to the massive Disney resort empire. Disney is the biggest employer within the two counties and most certainly their largest source of tangential and indirect tax revenue through tourism. Right now Disney—through Reedy Creek—actually contracts with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for millions each year ($15.8 million to outside law enforcement agencies in FY 2017) for protection. That’s a benefit to the counties that could end up becoming an expense.

It’s a bit simplistic to think that giving Walt Disney World Resort the power of self-rule is some sort of gift or privilege. That the park, given self-governance, has managed to maintain itself as a generally safe and stable environment that people flock to from across the world is a pretty good indication that the company knows what it’s doing.

Any contention that DeSantis is eliminating some sort of “special treatment” for Disney comes with it the perhaps mistaken assumption that the two counties suddenly in charge of all of this infrastructure will somehow make the park better and not worse. In reality, putting Disney parks at the mercy of two different counties with different laws will be a huge mess for everybody involved, and that’s the point. It’s not about what’s fair or what’s best for the citizens in the area. It’s about punishing political foes and centralizing government power (a very nonconservative approach) to do so.”

Biden’s cash fuels DeSantis’ budget wishlist

“The Florida governor..unveiled a $99.7 billion proposed spending plan that comes as DeSantis gears up for his 2022 reelection and continues to generate buzz as a top-tier potential 2024 White House hopeful. The governor’s budget is packed with federal stimulus funds from the Biden administration that DeSantis wants to use for his most politically popular programs, including a gas tax break and $1,000 bonuses for police and teachers.

The governor made it clear..that he wants to use $3.5 billion from Biden’s American Rescue Plan to help fund nearly every high-profile piece of his budget, setting up a scenario where the Biden administration could pay for policies DeSantis will use to campaign on during his reelection bid.

“I think the most ironic piece about his budget is that the governor wants to take $1.2 billion in American Rescue Plan money and use that for the gas tax break,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) told reporters after the budget announcement. “As the governor continually attacks President Biden, the reality is we could not balance this budget, or give out tax breaks without President Joe Biden.””

That 60 Minutes Story on Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Vaccine Rollout Is Wildly Flawed

“A 60 Minutes story on Florida’s vaccine rollout accused Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican governor, of making a corrupt deal with Publix to distribute the vaccine. CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi noted that the grocery chain donated $100,000 to DeSantis’ election campaign and suggested the lucrative vaccination contract was a “pay-to-play” scheme.

It’s an accusation that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny: For one thing, Publix—like many large corporations—gives money to both Republicans and Democrats. But more importantly, the decision to have Publix coordinate vaccination was not even made by the governor’s office. According to Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, it was his offices that recommended Publix. Moskowitz, a Democrat, has said that Publix was the best store for the job, since it has more than 800 locations across the state.

Indeed, when Alfonsi cornered DeSantis at a press conference and asked him about Publix, he gave a lengthy explanation that largely undercut her claims. He pointed out, for instance, that it wasn’t true that Publix got the vaccines first: CVS and Walgreens had already been contracted to coordinate vaccination for long-term care facilities.”

“Remarkably, CBS cut this portion of DeSantis’ response. In fact, the 60 Minutes story reduced his two-minute answer to just a few seconds.”

“This was not a case of a journalist condensing the essence of what a source told her: Alfonsi blatantly ignored the part of the governor’s statement that clashed with her narrative, and instead included a brief comment that made it sound like he became combative with her for no reason.”