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Floridians staved off the brunt of an extremist agenda this session

Next stop, the polls


Gov. Ron DeSantis’ authoritarian approach to governing is losing relevance with Floridians, and the tide seems to be turning in Florida.

A year ago, we saw bill after bill restricting our freedoms being fast-tracked through the legislature and signed into law by DeSantis. These laws were part of the governor’s “anti-woke” crusade — including government restrictions on speech and expression, government restrictions on access to health care, and government censorship in public schools, workplaces and our institutions of higher education.

Bills passed that created barriers to voting, targeted our immigrant communities, and banned books. These laws were unpopular with Floridians and the rest of the country. And they have caused tremendous harm to Floridians, our workforce, and our freedoms.

But this year’s session was different.

The backlash against the governor’s extremist agenda has been loud and fierce. After seeing the devastating impacts of government control over reproductive health care with IVF clinics closing their doors in Alabama, government-censorship-gone-wild with dictionaries and encyclopedias being removed from libraries, widespread teacher shortages, and an ignored and unaddressed property insurance crisis, Floridians across the political spectrum and of all faiths were successful at thwarting many of the most egregious bills filed this session and diluting many of the harms of the bills that did ultimately pass.

The governor must have hoped that Floridians would be so overworked and underpaid that they would sleep-walk through his assaults on our freedoms. But the opposite happened.

Floridians fought passionately throughout this legislative session to make their voices heard. Together, among other victories big and small, Floridians were able to defeat these bad bills:

  • an anti-abortion bill that would have allowed abusers to sue individuals seeking abortion care, their healthcare providers, and their support systems who helped them access the care they need (SB 476/ HB 651)
  • a government censorship bill that would have chilled the speech of reporters and members of the public from writing about the actions of public officials (HB 757/SB 1780)
  • a bill that would have barred minors under 16 from accessing constitutionally protected speech on the internet, even if they had their parents’ consent (HB 1)
  • an anti-voter bill that would have limited access to secure dropboxes, where you can safely submit your vote-by-mail ballot (SAC6)
  • anti-voter bills that would have abolished no-excuse vote-by-mail (SB 1752) and that would have required law enforcement in polling places (SB 190/HB 671)
  • a government censorship bill that would have censored adults from using their own pronouns at work (HB 599/SB 1382)
  • an anti-LGBTQ+ bill that would have forcefully outed transgender Floridians by requiring driver licenses to list a person’s sex assigned at birth instead of their gender (HB 1639/HB 1233)
  • a bill that would have protected Confederate monuments (HB 395/SB 1122)
  • a bill that would have prohibited schools and local governments from displaying pride flags (HB 901/SB 1120)
  • a government censorship bill that would have made it harder to pass constitutional amendments (HJR 335)
  • a government censorship bill that would have criminalized peaceful protests on campuses (HB 465/SB 470)

These are wins to be proud of.

Though we staved off the brunt of the legislature’s extremist agenda, several unconstitutional and inhumane bills still made it through.

These include an unconstitutional “stop-woke teacher training bill” that prohibits adults from teaching other adults about institutional racism and sexism (coalition opposition to HB 1291), a bill requiring all adults to verify their age and surrender their anonymity to access vast amounts of constitutionally protected speech online and barring youth under 14 from accessing constitutionally protected speech on the internet even with their parents’ consent (coalition opposition to HB 3), bills that could be weaponized against bystanders filming police activity (opposition to SB 184) and restricting civilian review boards that provide a measure of accountability for local police (opposition to HB 601), a bill allowing anyone claiming to be a religious chaplain, regardless of credentials, to counsel students in public schools (opposition to HB 931), and bills restricting community IDs (opposition to HB 1451), abolishing locally authorized safety protections (like water and shade) for outdoor workers exposed to Florida’s extreme heat (opposition to HB 433), and rolling back child labor protections (opposition to HB 49).

Several of these egregious bills have already been signed into law by DeSantis since the session wrapped up earlier this month, and we expect the governor will sign the others into law soon after they land on his desk.

While we still have a long way to go before Florida is a state where all people can live freely — regardless of what we look like, who we love, or how we express ourselves — the movement for justice is not confined to the legislative chambers. It exists in the courts, in the streets, in public opinion, and in elections.

If this legislative session has shown us anything, it is that extremists in our legislature will continually try to take away our rights, but that we — the people — have enormous power when we all work together to advocate for our freedoms.

We plan to take that power to the polls this November.

Stay woke, Florida. And hold your legislators accountable — your voice and your actions are critical. Our freedoms depend on it.

Kara Gross is the legislative director and senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.


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  • joni.corcoran

    It has become embarrassing to live in this state. We have fewer rights and morerestrictions on freedom each day this Governor is in office. We have to find a way to stop him.

    Sunday, March 31 Report this