When Florida lawmakers open their 2023 legislative session on Tuesday, expect a series of bills that will be red meat for the majority Republican base.

Among them are major proposals to expand gun rights, further restrict diversity efforts at public universities, and expand the ability to sue the media for defamation, all moves that shed light on the direction of a potential bid. presidential election of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

With a Republican supermajority holding power in both chambers in Tallahassee, DeSantis will face little significant resistance to shaping state politics as he sees fit, state policy watchers said, as he continues to build a likely presidential campaign.

“Whatever the governor wants to accomplish, he will accomplish in this session,” said Susan MacManus, professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida. «He’s going to offer some clues, some huge clues, about what kind of campaign he’s going to run.»

A DeSantis spokesman declined to answer questions about the upcoming session. The governor’s recent memoirs frequently tout his achievements in Florida as models for national politics. One chapter is even titled «Make America Florida» and writes that «the Florida model» is a «model for America’s renaissance.»

Here are some of the biggest issues the Republican Legislature will focus on in its March 7-May 5 session.

Expansion of gun rights

Republican leaders have already introduced legislation that would allow people to carry concealed loaded guns anywhere without permits, a proposal DeSantis has flagged as one of his top priorities for the upcoming session.

“This was something I have always supported,” said in december. “It will be something that will be done in the regular session.”

Under current Florida law, people seeking to carry concealed weapons in public must obtain concealed weapon licenses from the state. A measure of «constitutional carry,» as conservative gun rights activists call the bill, or «carry without a permit,» the term favored by gun control and safety activists as well as neutral groups, would remove the requirement.

In recent weeks, however, Senate Republicans have set the legislation with measures that they say would increase school safetysuch as creating a standardized school threat assessment process and expanding a program that allows school district employees to carry weapons in schools.

Democrats have criticized the combination as a political ploy to make the carry-without-a-permit proposal more palatable to voters.

“It should be two separate bills,” state Sen. Jason Pizzo, a prominent critic of DeSantis, said in an interview. “They are not German. … They should not be combined.”

Crack down on anything ‘woke’

DeSantis’ strong inclination toward education-related culture war issues has helped raise his national profile. Conservatives have celebrated their “Stop WOKE Act” of 2022, which in effect reduced talk of race in schools; his pressure on the College Board, which seemed to incite the group watering down its Advanced Placement African American Studies course (the group claims it didn’t make the changes because of DeSantis); and his retaliation against Disney after he opposed a law dubbed the «Don’t Say Gay» bill by criticsrestrict the teaching of young students about sexual orientation and gender identity.

He’s not going to stop that focus.

Another bill proposed by Republicans in the Legislature would build on those efforts by cracking down on diversity programs at state universities. The bill, HB 999, would consolidate state control over such schools. It would allow the Florida Board of Governors, in effect, to force universities to eliminate majors and majors in subjects like critical race theory and gender studies and prohibit spending on programs or activities that support them. The Board of Governors oversees the state’s public universities, and 14 of its 17 members are appointed by the governor.

The bill would also give school boards the authority to review tenure of faculty members at any time.

In addition, DeSantis and state Republicans continue to focus on targeting transgender people.

A pair of corresponding bills in the state Home and Senate If enacted, it would prohibit students, educators and other school employees from using pronouns that «do not correspond to that person’s sex.» It would also prohibit school employees from sharing their own pronouns if they do not “correspond” with their gender and ask students for their preferred pronouns.

Those same two bills would also expand the «Parental Rights in Education» law that critics call the «Don’t Say Gay» bill by extending the ban on teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity to the eighth degree (current law implemented such a ban up to the third degree).

Andrés Malavé, an aide to House Republican Speaker Paul Renner, questioned whether any focus by lawmakers on high-profile culture war-related legislation like HB 999 came from the governor’s office.

“All of these proposals are member-driven and will move through the appropriate processes,” he said in an interview.

go after the media

Another bill that is expected to be seriously considered, at DeSantis’s urging, would make it easier to successfully sue media organizations for defamation.

The bill, HB 991, would limit the “actual malice” requirement that has traditionally allowed journalists some leeway so they are not pressured into self-censorship while holding powerful people accountable. The term “actual malice” refers to the idea that people acted on information they knew to be false or with reckless disregard for its accuracy.

Notably, the bill would also classify allegations of discrimination against other people based on race, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity as defamation.

Experts have raised substantial questions about the constitutionality and legality of the bill, given that it includes several provisions that appear to contradict landmark Supreme Court rulings on First Amendment rights.

In essence, the bill puts in writing the calls of former President Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign «to open up our defamation laws», and his stint in the Legislature would further the DeSantis administration’s combative approach to the media.

At a panel discussion last month on «defamation practices by the media,» DeSantis urged the Legislature to act on the issuesaying, “The legacy media is increasingly divorced from the truth and instead attempts to elevate preferred narratives and partisan activism above reporting the facts.”

Pizzo said of the bill: “DeSantis is just literally copying [Trump’s] Playbook.»

‘We will know where it goes by what happens in this session’

Other conservative bills are receiving national attention, including one that, if enacted, would eliminate the Democratic Party in the state and another that would require bloggers who write about the governor and lawmakers to register with the state.

Despite the vast Republican majority in the Legislature, many observers of Florida politics do not expect those bills to pass.

“I call them bullshit bills,” MacManus said. “I think there is a danger in moving forward with bills like those if [DeSantis] anticipates running for president.”

The Legislature will also consider more conventional Republican proposals pushed by DeSantis, as «record tax relief» and a education plan that would raise teacher salaries while limiting school board terms and stripping unions of pay-negotiating leverage for educators.

«We’ll know where he’s going based on what happens in this session,» MacManus said.