Florida lawmakers begin special session to express support for Israel, further sanction Iran

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Legislature returned to the Capitol on Monday for a special session that will allow lawmakers to express their support for Israel, while giving Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis some talking points as he campaigns for president.

Lawmakers are expected to consider new sanctions against Iran, which has supported Hamas, as well as vote on resolutions expressing support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

“I urge you all to stand with me and view the world from my eyes,” David Schachter, a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor from Miami, told House members as the session began. “As someone who watched marches and protests in Europe that led to gas chambers and mass graves, I am here to tell you that our world needs a rude awakening.

Following Schacter’s remarks, Republican House Speaker Paul Renner said, “Know that in this House we will always stand with Israel and the Jewish people throughout the globe, today, tomorrow and forever.”

After Hamas militants attacked Israeli citizens last month, a large, bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers met in the Capitol to express their horror and to stand with Israelis. Now, they’ll be taking official action to send a similar message, both about the current war and against antisemitism at home.

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most of them in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that started the fighting. The Palestinian death toll has reached 9,700, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

A resolution being considered this week says lawmakers “reject and condemn persistent threats against Jewish people, institutions, and communities in the State of Florida, the United States, and abroad, including those from individuals and organizations committed to the extermination of the Jewish people.”

Lawmakers will also consider new sanctions against companies that do business with Iran, and a $35 million grant program to help secure Jewish schools, synagogues and other institutions.

Florida already has sanctions against companies that directly do business with Iran and six other “countries of concern,” including Cuba, China and Russia. The U.S. federal government has imposed sanctions against Iran for decades.

Lawmakers were already scheduled to be at the Capitol for committee meetings and Republican leaders decided to use the time for the special session. The Legislature will also take up issues like hurricane relief, property insurance and providing more money for developmentally disabled students.

Since the attacks, DeSantis has touted his support for Israel while on the campaign trail and used his official office to back up his words. He has sent planes to Israel to help Floridians return home and to provide supplies for the country.

Democrats said the session was called to try to boost DeSantis’ campaign.

“We should be focused on helping Floridians, not giving Ron DeSantis a talking point for his presidential campaign. Our community is worried about property insurance, schools, and health care. I don’t know what GOP primary voters in Iowa are concerned about, but maybe DeSantis can ask while he’s up there,” House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell said in a news release.

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