Legislative Insider’s Report from Tallahassee – Week 8 of 9

kids-girl-pencil-drawing-159823.jpegThank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the action alert we sent out on Monday regarding HB 7055 concerning homeschool distance learning and tutoring programs! Your efforts made a difference! When the bill was heard in committee on Tuesday, the sponsor of the strike-all amendment, Sen. Passidomo (R-Naples), shared she did not realize how the changes in the bill would affect homeschoolers and promised to address these concerns with an amendment on the Senate floor. She kept her word, and in a strike-all amendment on the floor on Friday, the concerning language was removed from the bill.

In other legislative news, it has been a very busy week here in Tallahassee as legislators have been working hard to come to an agreement on the state budget (the only bill they are required to pass) and to develop a comprehensive plan to address school safety after the Parkland shooting. Budget conference committees for both the House and Senate are meeting over the weekend and the Senate is in session today to discuss their school safety proposal. 

WPLG Photo Credit Parkland Gun Bill
Photo Credit: WPLG

Both chambers have held multiple committees this week to develop legislation to address school safety concerns. On Monday, the Senate Rules Committee meeting was packed with gun control advocates in bright orange shirts. The three and a half hour meeting was dedicated solely to discussing SB 7026, the Senate’s proposed response to the Parkland shooting. Those in favor of comprehensive gun reform, including an “assault weapons ban” which would outlaw nearly all guns, showed their disapproval for the proposal by disrupting the committee with shouts, personal attacks, yelling into the microphone when giving public comments and chanting “shame” and “vote them out.” Despite repeated attempts by the Senate Rules Chair to keep the crowd under control, the entire meeting was chaos. 

Passidomo on 7055
Sen. Passidomo (R-Naples)

Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to discuss the bill. Chairman Bradley (R-Orange Park) made it crystal clear to the audience that none of the disruptions from the previous day would be tolerated in his committee. The 7-hour meeting was very long and primarily focused on two bills–the school safety bill (SB 7026) and HB 7055, the House omnibus education package, which includes dozens of education reforms and proposals from other bills considered this session. Both bills passed the committee and were sent to the floor. HB 7055 was discussed and amended by the full Senate on Friday and the school safety proposal is being discussed as we speak. We expect HB 7055 to pass the Senate Monday and be sent back to the House for a vote.

Monday is destined to be a action-packed day with major legislation being considered on gambling, education and possibly school safety. Monday is also the 55th day of the Legislative Session, which means that bills that haven’t passed all their committees are dead for this session. Legislators are hopeful that they will have a final budget on Tuesday. After they introduce the budget, legislators are given 72 hours to review the bill prior to voting on it. Leadership in the House and Senate have indicated they believe session will end on time (next Friday, Mar 9th).

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

Douglass Leadership InstituteStrengthening 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.

Saturday, March 17, 2018 | 9 am -12 pm EST
Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church
890 NW 15th Street, Pompano Beach, FL 33060
To register for the event, click here or contact Kevrick McKain at 919-935-9220.

IMG_6306.jpgUpcoming Florida Constitution Revision Commission Hearings (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 Cape Coral on 3/5 and St. Petersburg on 3/13. For more information on what is happening and what is needed click here

Christianity & Culture Conference Apr 20-21

Christianity & Culture Conference
This conference is designed to help people of all ages develop a biblical worldview and think and live according to these principles. The worldview training will be provided by Worldview Academy in Titusville April 20-21. An early bird registration of $20 is available until Sunday, March 4. 

Friday, April 20 to Saturday, April 21, 2018
Trinity Community Church, 6750 S. Washington Avenue, Titusville, FL 32780
Register for the event here.

Del TackettTransforming Florida Truth Project Reunion
Join us Saturday, April 28 as we celebrate Transforming Florida’s Truth Project Reunion. The event will be held in two parts–a morning training session with Dr. Tackett (creator of The Truth Project) who will be introducing his new series “The Engagement” and an evening reunion dinner with both he and Marc Fey. 

In addition to featured guests, the dinner will include testimonies from individuals whose lives were changed by The Truth Project and a special tribute to R.C. Sproul. Tickets are now available to attend the training, the dinner or both events.

Saturday, April 28, 2018
Hiers-Baxley Life Event Center, 3975 Wedgewood Lane, The Villages, FL 32162
To learn more or to register for this exciting event, click here. Early bird rates available until Thurs, March 15.


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

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. 


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.

Rep. Grall (R- Vero Beach)

Action Taken: The House heard their version of the bill on Wednesday, and surprisingly, there were very few questions asked. The only questions came from a co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Massullo (R-Beverly Hills) who confirmed with the sponsor for the benefit of the chamber, that the bill would in no way add any additional risk to the health of the mother of the unborn child.

On Thursday, the House debated and voted on the measure. Rep. Mercado (D-Orlando) spoke in opposition to the bill, claiming these new regulations would get in the way of a “woman’s right to choose.” In closing, Rep. Grall (R-Vero Beach) addressed Rep. Mercado’s statement, reminding her that many other medical procedures are regulated and that abortion should not be an exception. She said that abortion has been an untouchable subject far too long and now is the time to remember our humanity and show respect for life. The bill passed the chamber in a mostly party-line 72-42 vote and was sent over to the Senate for consideration. The Senate version has not been heard in any of its respective committees this year, meaning the bill is likely dead for the year. 

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. 


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.

Action Taken: Adopted by the House on 2/20. We remain hopeful that this resolution will prompt some much-needed discussions about the impact that pornography is having in our state. 

SUPPORT 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: Though the bill itself is likely dead for the year, the language was added by Sen. Passidomo (R-Naples) this week to a delete-all amendment to HB 7055, the House’s Prek-12 2018 education package. The amendment was adopted by the Senate on Friday via a voice vote, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the full Senate Monday.


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.

Action Taken: The Senate bill was heard in its final committee, Appropriations, on Friday and passed unanimously. The bill will now head to the floor. The House version passed the House last week, and was sent to the Senate for consideration. Now that both bills are headed to the Senate floor, we hope the bill will be taken up by the full membership next week and passed out before session ends.

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.

Rep. Donalds Hope Scholarship 3.2.18 House Floor
Rep. Donalds (R-Naples)

Action Taken: The bill was heard by the House Friday and will be voted on Monday. During questions, the bill sponsor addressed concerns from members regarding how the program is funded, student eligibility requirements, funding accountability, and if the bully would also receive behavioral health assistance and be eligible for the scholarship if he was also bullied, among others. One of the biggest concerns raised by Democrats was that the program would take away funding from the public school district. The sponsor assured them the funding sources were not related. Rep. Hardemon (D-Miami) even came out and accused the sponsor of running someone else’s bill and asked if Rep. Donalds (R-Naples) disliked public schools.

The sponsor amended the bill on the floor to make the program immediately effective upon becoming law, and Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) added an amendment to ensure both the bully and victim have access to behavioral counseling. He also filed a strike-all amendment to the bill but withdrew it after assurances his concerns would be dealt with when the House receives the Senate’s version of the bill. Other amendments adopted included conforming and technical language to place the Hope Scholarship in line with accountability and program requirements for the McKay and Gardiner scholarships.

The language of this bill is also included in HB 7055, which was discussed by the Senate on Friday. HB 7055 is expected to be voted on by the full Senate on Monday.


SUPPORT 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. 

Rep. Rommel on Free Speech HB 909 House Floor
Rep. Rommel (R-Naples)

Action Taken: Last week, the the House bill was amended to become the vehicle for the House’s higher education package. On Friday, the House considered the bill on the floor. The bill is expected to be voted on Monday by the full membership.

Rep. Rommel (R-Naples) says he plans to amend the free expression language in the bill Monday to limit the legal cause of action students can bring against other students, university faculty and staff for violating their free expression to just against the university. There had been some concern that as the bill currently stands, some students would be discouraged from speaking or counter-protesting another’s speech in fear of being sued.

Predictably, extreme examples were brought up on the floor to argue against legal action even against universities. Rep. Alexander (D-Tallahassee) asked if FAMU would be sued if the KKK hosted a rally on campus and their speech incited a riot. The bill sponsor reminded him that the university could be sued only if the group were prohibited from speaking on campus.

An amendment was introduced to the bill by Rep. Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) to completely remove a student’s recourse for legal action against the university for violation of speech. After a failed voice vote, 5 representatives raised their hands calling for a recorded vote. The vote was 39-74 against the amendment. 


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). 

Senate Gaming Bill Approps 3.2
Sen. Hutson (R-Palm Coast)

Action Taken: The Senate bill was heard in its final committee, Appropriations, Friday. The bill is the Senate’s 2018 gaming proposal and significantly differs from the House’s proposal. The Senate’s bill would expand slot machines to the counties that voted for them, expand the games offered under the Seminole Gaming Compact by the tribe, and would remove the requirement for live racing to be performed for a parimutuel to have slot machines. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Hutson (R-Palm Coast) in his close on the bill indicated hope that the Senate would pass the bill on the floor and enter into conference negotiations with the House to align their respective legislation. The bill passed the committee 16-4.

HB 7067 Seminole Gaming Compact on 3.2.18
Rep. La Rosa (R-St. Cloud)

With Amendment 3 (Voter Control of Gambling) on the ballot in the fall, the pressure is on for legislators to pass comprehensive gaming legislation before the end of session. On Friday, the Florida House considered their 2018 gaming bill, which mainly ratifies a 2018 Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. This compact would largely keep gambling in the state at the status quo for the next 20 years.

Questions were raised on the floor about whether the counties that voted in recent years to introduce slot machines would be allowed to have them under this agreement. There was also some debate over what a slot machine really is. Under the current House bill, the definition of a slot machine would be expanded in Florida statute to include “pre-reveal” casino games, games that show the player the outcome of the game before they’re played. Rep. Jacquet (D-Lantana) introduced an amendment on the floor to remove the language from the bill, claiming that if someone already knows the outcome of the game, it is neither a risk nor chance. The amendment failed. Another bill by Rep. Plakon (R-Longwood) with the same expanded language regarding the definition of slot machines was heard by the House Friday. Both bills are expected to be voted on by the full House during Monday’s session.

As there is just one week left in Session, it is fairly unlikely that the chambers will choose to conference over this legislation, but something may be in the works behind the scenes. There is a consensus that a new Seminole Compact needs to be authorized this year.  

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. 


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: None this week.

SUPPORT 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 Senate bill was heard by the Senate Friday and will be voted on Monday. The House version is still on the 2nd reading calendar in the House.

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: The House bill was heard Friday and will be voted on Monday. No action has been taken on the Senate bill. 


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. 


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.  


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.


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.