Legislative Insider’s Report from Tallahassee – Week 7 of 9

Parkland Rally at Florida CapitolPhoto Credit: The Palm Beach Post

This week students from Parkland and across the state descended on Tallahassee to call for legislative action after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, students were split into groups and were escorted by Equality Florida, Florida’s leading LGBT activist organization, and other organizers to meet with legislators to share their experiences and demand action.

On Tuesday, as the House opened their floor session, Democrats motioned to remove all committee assignments from HB 219 and debate it directly on the floor. The bill, which has been called an assault weapons ban, in actual fact, bans nearly all guns and makes it a felony to possess or sell a wide variety of guns. The bill was never analyzed by staff nor heard in any of its committees. It should be noted that staff analysis and committee hearings are a vital part of vetting any proposed legislation. The motion to remove the committee references and debate it on the floor failed in a 71-36 party-line vote which set off a media firestorm and framed the conversation for the remainder of the week. CNN listed the name of every member who voted not to bring the measure to the floor with their NRA record. Other media outlets listed the names and phone numbers of all of the no votes. Legislative offices were inundated with calls not just from Floridians, but those across the country.  

Tampa Bay Times Parkland Students Chant
Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Wednesday, a Parkland student ambushed the Criminal Justice Subcommittee chair in the House Judiciary Committee to ask what possible reason or rationale he could have for not hearing HB 219. A rally was held outside the Capitol with 2,000 to 3,500 people calling for stricter gun control measures with students, parents, teachers, and legislators speaking out. The rally was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Equality Florida, The Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, Florida PTA and others. The atmosphere was supercharged and hostile. As House members convened on the floor Wednesday afternoon, a group gathered outside the chamber chanting about HB 219 and could be heard throughout the entire floor session.

House and Senate leaders plan to release their legislative response to the Parkland shooting as early as today, but it’s unlikely that gun control advocates will be happy with it. Throughout the week, it was clear that the shooting had become politicized and a specific agenda was being pushed by the Left. 

FFPC President John Stemberger tweeted out regarding this whole movement:

It is totally shameful the leftist activists in Florida that are exploiting the teen survivors of the #StonemanShooting by parading them around exploiting them for political purposes instead of getting them grief counseling & letting them heal. #StudentsStandUp #CNNTownHall

— John Stemberger (@JohnStemberger) February 22, 2018 

Dealing with the aftermath of the shooting may have also sucked all the air out of budget negotiations and we’re hearing its a possibility that Session may be extended so that budget negotiations can be completed.  

Here are some exciting events happening around the state we hope you will attend: 

A Women's Pregnancy Center of MariannaA Women’s Pregnancy Center of Marianna’s Celebration of Life Banquet

Join us for A Women’s Pregnancy Center of Marianna’s Annual Celebration of Life Banquet this next Tuesday, February 27. FFPC President John Stemberger will be the featured keynote at this event. Celebrate with us the precious lives saved every day because of AWPC Marianna’s commitment to support and care for women and their families in their community facing a suspected or unplanned pregnancy.

Details:
Tuesday, February 27, 2018 | 6 – 10 PM CST
Eastside Baptist Church, 4785 Highway 90, Marianna, 32446
For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 850-526-4673 or email awpcmarianna@gmail.com.

Douglass Leadership Institute, Strengthening the Black FamilyStrengthening the Black Family Forum

We are pleased to partner with the Douglass Leadership Institute to present the Strengthening the Black Family forum in Pompano Beach on Saturday, March 17. This free forum event will celebrate the importance of family in the black community while highlighting the challenges facing many children today due to single parent households, divorce and poverty. During the event, participants will also hear from and receive leadership training from respected political and policy experts, including FFPC’s President John Stemberger and Rev. Dean Nelson, chairman of the Douglass Leadership Institute. The goal of this Saturday morning conference is to discuss how black churches and families can be strengthened, as black American families are disproportionately disadvantaged in many ways.

Details:
Saturday, March 17, 2018 | 9 am -12 pm EST
Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church
890 NW 15th Street, Pompano Beach, FL 33060
To register please contact Kevrick McKain at 919-935-9220.

IMG_6306.jpgUpcoming Constitution Revision Commission Hearings (Pensacola, Cape Coral, St. Petersburg)

Your voice is needed at one of the upcoming historic hearings of the 2017-2018 Florida Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) scheduled during the next few weeks. Hearings are currently scheduled for Pensacola on 2/27, Cape Coral on 3/5 and St. Petersburg on 3/13. For more information on what is happening and what is needed click here

Now for this week’s update on our core legislative agenda! 

 

ADOPTION/FOSTER CARE

OPPOSE HB 357 / SB 576 Adoptee Birth Certificates
Sponsors: Rep. Richard Stark (D), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)

This bill mandates opening up birth records to birth parents and adult adoptees (even without the consent of the birth parents in adoptions after July 1, 2018) by requiring the Florida Department of Health to issue noncertified copies of unaltered, original birth certificates to adoptees and birth parents.

Action Taken: None this Session. 

 

ABORTION

SUPPORT HB 1429 / SB 1890 Dismemberment Abortion
Sponsors: Rep. Erin Grall (R), Rep. Joe Gruters (R), Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R)

Prohibits dismemberment abortion, where an unborn child is killed by an abortionist using instruments to cut or rip the child’s body apart piece by piece and then extracts the pieces from the mother.

Action Taken: None this week. 

OPPOSE HB 1273SB 1718 Contraception Mandate
Sponsors: Rep. Holly Raschein (R), Sen. Lauren Book (D)

Mandates employers provide insurance plans which pay for contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs. The exemption for employers is limited to religious objections by religious nonprofits or small, privately-held companies and it requires notification of objection to providing coverage. Insurance companies are still required to provide coverage of contraception to employees who work for an exempt organization.

Action Taken: None this Session. 

OPPOSE HB 189 / SB 320 Abortion Clinics
Sponsors: Rep. Amy Mercado (D), Sen. Linda Stewart (D)

This bill prohibits anyone from interfering with women attempting to enter abortion clinics. Sidewalk counselors or protesters could face fines, civil suits, and criminal penalties for simply calling out to a woman to not abort her baby. This bill goes beyond prohibiting criminal and inappropriate interference with abortion facilities and limits free speech. 

Action Taken: None this Session. 

 

CULTURE

SUPPORT HR 157 / SR 480 Declaring Pornography a Public Health Risk 
Sponsors: Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Kelli Stargel (R)

Recognizes the public health risk created by pornography and acknowledges the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change to protect Floridians.

Rep. Spano on House FloorAction Taken: The House picked up their resolution for consideration on the floor on Tuesday. During questions, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Winter Park) attempted to imply that this resolution by Rep. Ross Spano (R-Riverview) was unimportant and outrageous because it prioritized pornography over gun violence. Rep. Smith was antagonistic and grandstanding on the issue of gun control during each of his questions. We have it on good authority that he alienated some of his colleagues in the exchange and some are wanting to distance themselves from him. The resolution was adopted in a voice vote, with only a few no votes from the back of the chamber. We remain hopeful that this resolution will prompt some much-needed discussions about the impact that pornography is having in our state. 

Kim Daniels on the House Floor HB 839SUPPORT HB 839 / SB 1158 Display of State Motto in Public Schools
Sponsors: Rep. Daniels (D), Rep. Ponder (R), Sen. Perry (R)

Requires each Florida school and each school district building to prominently display the state motto “In God We Trust.”

Action Taken: Rep. Kim Daniels (D-Jacksonville) presented her bill on the floor of the House on Wednesday. Her passionate remarks on the floor spoke about the attempts to remove God from the public sphere, including the question as to why kids have to wait until they go to prison to see “In God We Trust.” She also asked why we had prison chaplains but none in schools. You can hear her full remarks on the House floor (3:50-11:15) here. The bill passed the House 97-10. Unfortunately, the Senate version hasn’t moved at all this session so the bill is dead for the year.  

 

EDUCATION

SUPPORT HB 731 / SB 732 Home Education
Sponsors: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)

Clarifies that a home education program is not a school district program and parents who wish to homeschool their children must register with the district school superintendent only for the purpose of complying with the state’s attendance requirements. It requires the district school superintendent to accept the parental notification and register the program upon receipt of the notice. The school district cannot require any additional information unless the student chooses to participate in their programs or services. The bill also stipulates that the content of a child’s portfolio shall be determined by the parent, not the school district. Finally, it allows school districts to provide homeschool students access to career and vocational courses and requires that industry certifications, national assessments, and statewide, standardized assessments offered by the school district be available to homeschool students. For homeschool students who are dual enrolled to earn college credit, the bill stipulates that course or program limitations may not exceed the limitations for other dually enrolled students.

Rep. Jennifer Sullivan

Action Taken: The House version passed quickly without any debate on Wednesday afternoon in a 113-0 vote. The Senate version has one remaining committee, Appropriations, but it was not scheduled to be heard in next Tuesday’s meeting – the last day for regularly scheduled committee meetings. This means the bill is likely dead for the third year in a row.  

 SUPPORT HB 1 / SB 1172 Hope Scholarship Program
Sponsors: Rep. Byron Donalds (R), Sen. Bill Galvano (R)

Establishes the Hope Scholarship for students after an incident of battery, harassment, hazing, bullying, kidnapping, robbery, sexual offenses, harassment, assault, threat or intimidation. The student will have an opportunity to transfer to another public school or to apply for a scholarship to attend a private school. Scholarship funds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Action Taken: HB 7055, a larger education bill, which has the Hope Scholarship Program language was heard by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday. Because it is a House bill any proposed amendments will be considered at each committee stop in the Senate. A number of amendments were considered on Tuesday. One that could have huge consequences for private schools was adopted by the committee and we are more fully analyzing its impact before Tuesday’s Appropriations Committee meeting, its next scheduled stop. It is fully expected that the Senate will adopt various amendments and then the bill will head to a conference committee between the two chambers where the final language and details will be determined. 

 

FREE SPEECH

Amber Kelly of FFA on Free Speech BillSUPPORT HB 909 / SB 1234 Free Speech Zones on Campus

Sponsors: Rep. Rommel (R), Rep. Clemons (R), Sen. Baxley (R)

Protects the right of free speech outdoors on public campuses of higher education such as state colleges, universities, law schools, etc. Prohibits a public college, university, law school, etc. from creating “free speech zones” or restricting free expression except in cases that are reasonable and content-neutral. No student, faculty or staff member would be allowed to materially disrupt another individual or organization’s scheduled or reserved activities. If a violation occurs, the Attorney General or the person whose rights were violated may take the violator to court within one year of the violation for reasonable compensation. 

Action Taken: Senate Judiciary, the final committee in the Senate, heard their version of the bill on Tuesday. The committee room was packed with students from leftist groups whose testimony clearly demonstrated why this bill is necessary on college campuses today. Unfortunately, speaker cards were ordered with all of the opposition on top and supporters on the bottom and time ran out for public testimony – meaning committee members only heard from opponents to the bill. FFA’s Amber Kelly was at the meeting to testify on the bill, but was not given an opportunity to do so. Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) and Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) joined with committee Democrats in voting “no” on the bill killing the bill. Before the vote count was even announced, a motion to reconsider was made which would allow the bill to be reconsidered (voted on again) during the next committee meeting – but there are no more Judiciary committee meetings scheduled for the year.  

The House Education committee picked up the measure on Wednesday morning. FFA’s Amber Kelly testified on the bill, followed by a couple of the students from the previous day (you can hear Amber’s full testimony from 13:48 to 16:28). Some of the student testimony focused on speech that incites violence – it is important to note that free speech protections never extend to speech that incites violence. Opponents said that extremists include racists, evangelicals and those who are pro-life and that the majority have the right to silence speech they don’t like. 

Questions by committee members were much more pointed than in the Senate. During debate committee members passionately argued the bill with some members hung up on the issue of racist speech. Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park), as a millennial, said he believed in disruption, meaning that it is appropriate to disrupt activities or speech that one disagrees with. The idea of disruption is diametrically opposed to the concept of free speech. While it is certainly acceptable to protest and counter-protest, it is not okay to impinge or stop others from exercising their right to free speech. The final vote was 14-6 in a mostly party-line vote with Rep. Kim Daniels (D-Jacksonville) joining committee Republicans.  

 

GAMBLING

OPPOSE HB 223 / SB 374 Fantasy Contests
Sponsors: Rep. Jason Brodeur (R), Sen. Dana Young (R)

Exempts fantasy gaming contests such as fantasy sports leagues from being subject to gambling penalties and regulations. In effect, legalizing fantasy gambling.

Action Taken: None this week. 

OPPOSE SB 840 Legalizing Fantasy and Designated Player Games/Expanding Slot Machines
Sponsor: Sen. Travis Hutson (R)

In addition to exempting fantasy gaming from state gambling regulations, this bill would remove the requirement that greyhound, thoroughbred, quarter horse and harness horse permit holders conduct live racing at their pari-mutuel facilities in order to be eligible for or keep their slot machine and cardroom licenses. This bill would allow these facilities to take wagers for intertrack races and simulcasts.  It would also legalize designated player games (playing against a designated player rather than the house). 

Action Taken: None this week. 

OPPOSE HB 1293 / SB 1802 Preview Games and Machines
Sponsor: Rep. Al Jacquet (D), Sen. Perry Thurston Jr. (D)

Legalizes preview or pre-reveal machines, slot machines which draw individuals in by revealing the prize before the game is started.  A Florida judge has already ruled the machines constitute gambling. 

Action Taken: None this Session. 

 

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

SUPPORT HB 167 / SB 1044 Civil Action for Human Trafficking Victims
Sponsors: Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Lauren Book (D)

Allows a victim of human trafficking to bring a civil cause of action against a human trafficker or facilitator (a person or business who aids in or turns a blind eye to human trafficking activities). Under this provision, a victim of human trafficking could receive payment for medical bills, mental health services, repatriation, etc. as well as monetary damages for pain, loss, trauma, etc. A trafficker or facilitator would also be liable under this section to provide an additional $100,000 in damages to the Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking (established by HB 169/SB 1046) and, in some cases, additional damages to law enforcement to aid in future human trafficking rescue efforts. Punitive damages would be equally divided between the victim and the trust fund.

Action Taken: The House version was heard by its final committee, Judiciary, on Wednesday. The bill passed with unanimous support. The bill now heads to the House floor. The Senate version is set to be heard by its final committee, Rules, on Monday next week. 

Rep. Spano in CommitteeSUPPORT HB 169 / SB 1046 Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking
Sponsors: Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Lauren Book (D)

Creates the Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking and Prevention within the Department of Law Enforcement.  This fund would be funded by penalties and damages obtained under as referenced in HB 167 / SB 1044 and other sources, including funds appropriated by the Legislature. The trust fund would be used to assist victims of human trafficking with medical and mental health exams and treatment, living expenses, lost wages and repatriation. The funds could also be used for a variety of education and prevention efforts, creating a survivor’s resource center, or for vacating convictions against trafficking victims incurred due to trafficking, etc.

Action Taken: The House and Senate bills passed their final committees Wednesday and Thursday this week and will now head to the floor to be considered by their full chambers. Both bills passed unanimously out of committee.

SUPPORT HB 7039 / SB 1502 Increased Penalties for Human Trafficking
Sponsors: House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Rep. Ross Spano (R), Sen. Lauren Book (D)

Requires a 10-year minimum mandatory imprisonment sentence for any individual, who knowingly or recklessly without regards to the facts, engages in, attempts to engage in, or financially benefits from human trafficking. Removes fees to expunge certain portions of criminal records for victims of human trafficking as it relates to their trafficking. Redefines the term “Adult Entertainment Establishment” to include additional adult-style businesses.

Action Taken: None this week. 

 

LIFE 

SUPPORT HB 41 / SB 444 Pregnancy Support Services
Sponsors: Rep. Jackie Toledo (R), Sen. Aaron Bean (R)

Requires the Florida Department of Health to contract with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network (FPCN) to provide pregnancy support services for women who suspect or know they are pregnant. FPCN would then provide support to pregnant women and address their wellness needs. The bill requires FPCN subcontractors to promote and support childbirth only. All services provided must be voluntary and cannot include religious content.

Action Taken: None this week. It has already passed both chambers, we are just waiting for it to be sent to the governor. 

 

LGBT

OPPOSE HB 347 / SB 66 Creating Special Rights for LGBT Citizens or “Florida’s Competitive Workforce Act”
Sponsors: Rep. Ben Diamond (D), Rep. Rene Plasencia (R), Sen. Darryl Rouson (D)

The worst bill in the Florida Legislature because of its effect on public safety and freedom of conscience. It adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to Florida’s Civil Rights Act of 1992 as impermissible grounds for discrimination. This bill provides a new way for LGBT individuals to sue employers and small businesses for discrimination.  Would allow men access to use women’s showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms.

A full list of House and Senate co-sponsors.

Action Taken:  None this Session.

OPPOSE HB 717 / SB 696 Banning Conversion Therapy
Sponsors: Rep. Evan Jenne (D) / Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D)

This bill makes it unlawful for people in Florida who are licensed to provide professional counseling and others, like pastors who are licensed counselors, to counsel youth under the age of 18 struggling with their “sexual orientation and/or gender identity” to think and live in a heterosexual manner consistent with their biological gender, even if the child (as the patient) asks for their help to do so. 

Action Taken: None this Session.  

 

MARRIAGE

SUPPORT HB 1323 / SB 1580 Florida Guide to a Healthy Marriage  
Sponsors: Rep. Clay Yarborough (R), Rep. Danny Burgess (R), Sen. Kelli Stargel (R)

Creates the Marriage Education Committee, which is tasked with developing the Florida Guide to a Healthy Marriage, which is required to include resources on conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence, and parenting responsibilities; current information from marriage education and family advocates to assist in forming and maintaining a long-term marital relationship; and information regarding premarital education, marriage enrichment education, and resources that are available to help restore a marriage that is potentially moving toward dissolution. Clerks will be responsible for posting the guide on their websites and individuals applying for a marriage certificate must certify that they have read it or similar resources.

Action Taken: None this week. 

OPPOSE HB 130 / SB 6027 Same-Sex Marriage
Sponsors: Rep. David Richardson (D), Sen. Gary Farmer (D)

Removes the language in state statute which prohibited same-sex couples from marrying and the State of Florida from recognizing same-sex marriages from other states.

Action Taken: None this Session.

 

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

SUPPORT HB 871 / SB 1290 Free Enterprise Protection Act
Sponsors: Rep. Jay Fant (R), Sen. Dennis Baxley (R)

Prohibits any level of state government or individual acting on behalf of the state from discriminating against a business based upon their internal personnel or employee benefits policies or their exercise of free speech and religion as protected under the Florida and federal Constitutions. The state and its subdivisions would be prohibited from revoking tax exemptions and benefits; denying grants, certifications, licenses, etc.; and access and entitlement to property, facilities and speech forums, among other provisions.

Action Taken: None this Session.

The Senate bill was heard by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday. The bill was amended in committee by the sponsor Sen. Baxley (R-Lady Lake) to clarify liability language for public institutions and add increased accountability for student governments in charge of funding student campus organizations.

The bill was highly contested in committee, with some Senators even questioning the need for this legislation. The bill sponsor reminded the committee that restricting free speech to certain areas or groups on public campuses as some Florida universities (and many others around the country) are practicing is setting a dangerous precedent. Not only do these actions silence or alienate those with differing views leading to complete intolerance, but it also violates the First Amendment.

One senator brought up the inflammatory example of the KKK as a reason to have waiting periods or restrictions on speech on college campuses. However, as one speaker pointed out, as much as this form of speech is not welcome by society, placing restrictions on any group and not on other groups is an unequal application of rules and is effectively content based discrimination. After further discussion, the bill was passed on party lines 7-4. The bill has one more committee, Judiciary, before it heads to the Senate floor.

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