DeSantis will call legislative session to pass sanctions against Iran

But the agenda will also include hurricane relief, insurance and school vouchers.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the press after greeting passengers arriving from Israel on a chartered flight organized by Project Dynamo on Sunday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the press after greeting passengers arriving from Israel on a chartered flight organized by Project Dynamo on Sunday. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 20, 2023|Updated Oct. 20, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis will call state lawmakers back to Tallahassee next month to pass further sanctions against Iran in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel.

Florida will pass “the strongest sanctions against Iran by any state in the nation,” DeSantis press secretary Jeremy Redfern said in a statement Friday.

But what those penalties might look like wasn’t divulged on Friday. The federal government has had sanctions in place against Iran since 1979, limiting companies that do business with the country.

On Friday afternoon, state lawmakers announced the special session will take place the week of Nov. 6, when lawmakers were already scheduled to be in Tallahassee for committee meetings, and two days before DeSantis takes the stage in the third GOP presidential primary debate in Miami.

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, notified lawmakers Friday that they will consider how to “impose additional sanctions” on Iran, Hamas and other terrorist organizations, will “formally express support for the State of Israel to exist” and will provide additional security at places subject to hate crimes, such as Jewish day schools.

But those items are part of a broader agenda for that week, he and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, told lawmakers in an email.

They will also look to:

  • Provide relief for hurricane-hit areas
  • Provide more money for a Florida school voucher program that helps students with disabilities
  • And address the backlog of more than 19,000 people who signed up for a new home-hardening program.

Passidomo wrote to senators that the program has helped homeowners reduce their premiums, which continue to rise despite several years of legislative reforms. Lawmakers have repeatedly said that the state’s homeowners insurance crisis is their top constituent issue.

“I understand the frustration, I share it, and I am always talking with stakeholders and trying to find new solutions,” Passidomo wrote to senators.

Israel the focus for DeSantis

Florida lawmakers from both parties expressed horror over this month’s attack, in which Hamas murdered and kidnapped civilians in Israeli cities and towns near the Gaza Strip.

Iran is a longtime ally of Hamas, supplying the organization with military support, but the country’s role in the Oct. 7 attack is unclear. Officials in Tehran have denied involvement in the attack, but have praised Hamas. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States has so far found no evidence Iran was directly involved.

In the last week, Florida has partnered with Project Dynamo, a Tampa-based nonprofit that specializes in bringing U.S. citizens home from conflict zones around the world, to fly hundreds of Americans from Israel to Tampa.

Project Dynamo co-founder Bryan Stern told reporters earlier this week that the nonprofit has been in charge of most of the logistics on the ground and that Florida has helped by covering the cost of air travel.

On Friday, however, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Stern was frustrated with the contractors hired by the DeSantis administration. In their rush to score political points for the governor’s presidential campaign, the contractors stranded nearly two dozen Americans in Cyprus and caused confusion during Project Dynamo’s rescue efforts, Stern told the paper.

The DeSantis administration has been mum about the total cost of the taxpayer-funded operation, which is estimated to cost millions of dollars.

It is also unclear how the administration vetted the organization, which has been criticized by U.S. government officials for being too willing to take risks that other nonprofits would not.

Iran is already one of seven “countries of concern” designated by Florida officials, which prohibits the state from investing in companies linked to those nations and places limits on foreign nationals owning land. The other countries are China, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

DeSantis has already signed into law legislation that prohibits state and local governments from contracting with Iran and other countries of concern. Colleges and universities are barred from accepting gifts or grants or reaching agreements with schools in those countries without permission from the Board of Governors.

“I would be impressed if his team came up with proposals with much impact,” said Patrick Clawson, director of the Viterbi Program on Iran and U.S. Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, a first generation Iranian American, said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that she was opposed to a legislative session.

She said she despised the Iranian government but opposed “DeSantis wasting Floridian taxpayer money for his failing Presidential bid.”

DeSantis is apparently fundraising off of the rescue flights from Israel, the New York Post reported Thursday. His presidential campaign website is selling $28 T-shirts with a “DeSantis Airways” logo, purchases of which are considered a political contribution. A spokesperson for his campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the shirt.

State lawmakers can only pass laws when they’re in session in Tallahassee. The annual 60-day session is set to begin in January, but governors and legislative leaders can call special sessions outside of that window.

Special sessions are typically reserved for state emergencies or pressing issues. Lawmakers met for special sessions twice last year to address the state’s property insurance crisis, for example. But DeSantis has broken with past governors to call special sessions on topics tied to his political agenda.

In February, a month before the annual session began, DeSantis called them back to assign another $10 million to his migrant flights program and to fix flawed legislation dealing with his takeover of Disney’s special taxing district and his voter fraud unit.

In November 2021, less than two months before the annual session was set to begin, he called a special session to outlaw vaccine mandates and to assign money to study whether the state should remove itself from the direct federal oversight of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

McClatchy D.C. reporter Michael A. Wilner and Times political editor Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.