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Tallahassee faces pushback following new voting, energy bills




State leaders and advocacy groups are filing lawsuits against Florida and petitioning Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto bills passed in the 2021 legislative session.

On Monday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman joined a panel, hosted by the CLEO Institute, asking the Governor to veto Tallahassee’s “energy preemption bill” (HB 919), a law that would limit local authority to adopt renewable energy sources.

“I’m not as confident that (St. Petersburg) is gonna be able to hit our goal of 100% clean and renewable by 2035 because of this legislation,” Kriseman said in the panel.

The Sierra Club’s Florida Chapter also drafted a petition last month asking the governor to veto HB 919, along with HB 839 and SB 896. According to them, these bills will hinder local initiatives for green energy by restricting cities’ ability to mandate changes to their fuel sources. 50 elected leaders in Florida signed on, including St. Petersburg City Council Member Gina Driscoll. 

“I signed on to this letter asking Gov. DeSantis to veto each and every one of these regressive anti-clean energy preemptions because we absolutely must set meaningful clean energy transition targets and give cities the flexibility we need to succeed,” Driscoll said in a statement to the Sierra Club.

State Rep. Josie Tomkow, who introduced HB 919 and remains an outspoken advocate for these bills, remains firm in saying the laws would not prohibit green energy, but that they would instead protect existing fuel providers. 

The Sierra Club’s petition emphasized local autonomy, asking Gov. DeSantis to “protect home rule” and “embrace that spirit and authority to stop legislation that negatively impacts Floridians where they live.”

Jessica Lewis, a contract lobbyist for the Sierra Club, helped write the letter, and said she wants Gov. DeSantis to act on claims of protecting the environment.

“(Gov. DeSantis) has a record of touting himself as an environmentalist,” Lewis said. “It would be great if (he) were actually following through on that.”

The Sierra Club also supports efforts to overturn the polarizing elections bill (SB 90) that faces litigation from multiple organizations.

The League of Women Voters of Florida filed a lawsuit moments after Gov. DeSantis signed SB 90, a bill that places restrictions on mail-in voting.

Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters, said their goal is to “null and void” the bill, which she claims is unconstitutional and could infringe on voting accessibility by limiting ballot drop boxes and requiring repeating annual mail-in ballot requests.

Florida Senator Dennis Baxley, who introduced SB 90, told the Catalyst via his office that he believes this legislation is fair for all Florida voters.

“This is why we have courts. Our job, as legislators, is to make policy and their job is to apply the law and resolve differences,” Baxley wrote. “Our reforms secure every vote that is legally cast and we are confident that we are not violating the constitution, we are fulfilling it.”

Gov. DeSantis signed the bill into law on May 6, but groups like Black Voters Matter Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, The Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and the League of United Latin American Citizens all joined to sue either the State of Florida or Secretary of State Laurel Lee, in their efforts to curb this legislation. 

On Tuesday, the civil rights group Dream Defenders also announced that they will pursue litigation against the governor over HB 1, a bill DeSantis called the “the strongest, anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.” The Dream Defenders called the legislation “an assault on Black people,” via Twitter.

Brigham says the League of Women Voters is optimistic about the multiple lawsuits challenging Tallahassee, pointing to her organization’s success in a case that aimed to keep early voting sites on college campuses last year. 

The settlement led to a directive freely allowing the placement of voting locations on colleges, which Brigham said 65,000 Floridians have used to vote since.

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