Florida governor Ron DeSantis last month signed new legislation largely banning the use of vaccine mandates by either private entities or local governments. The new legislation also reinforces the DeSantis administration’s overall efforts to prevent local governments from imposing mask mandates as well. Most notably, the administration has intervened to prevent school districts from imposing mandates.
This approach has predictably raised opposition. Generally, opponents of DeSantis’s efforts at preempting local mandates have claimed that local governments ought to exercise some degree of independence from state policies.
When pressed on this issue at a press conference last month, DeSantis responded with a philosophical statement suggesting that the prerogatives of state governments ought to trump all other levels of government. Specifically, when asked why he was willing to impose state mandates on local governments—i.e., “violating the tenet of home rule”—DeSantis responded:
It’s the United States of America, not the United school boards or county commissions of America. So the states are the primary vehicles to protect people’s freedoms, their health, their safety, their welfare in our constitutional system.
He goes on to emphasize that local governments must be at the mercy of his state-level administration because local governments “don’t have the right to do wrong.” What is “wrong,” of course, is to be decided by state-level politicians. This response strongly implies that DeSantis is of the opinion Florida—and apparently all the other states as well—are to function as unitary states. That is, his position appears to be that decentralized power is appropriate in relations between state governments and the federal governments—but has no role in the relationship between state governments and local governments.