Legislative Insider’s Report from Tallahassee – Week 4 of 9

Week 4 is over and there was quite a bit of movement on some bills that we’re watching, but haven’t listed on our core legislative agenda. First off, the House rolled out its gambling bill for year this week. The proposed bill looks good in that it locks in the Seminole gambling compact for 20 years and puts some other restrictions on gambling in the state. What remains to be seen is whether, after each chamber passes their gambling bills, the House will stick to its guns or compromise with the Senate resulting in an expansion of gambling. Keep in mind that this all leads up to November when Floridians will be voting on Amendment 3, the Voter Control of Gambling Initiative, which would require voter approval before any expansion of gambling in the state – taking the power out of the hands of legislators.

Rep. Jeanette Nunez Presents HB 335

Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami) presents
HB 335: Marriage of Minors
to
the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Another bill of interest is a bill which would ban marriage for all individuals under the age of 18 with no exceptions. The need for such a bill has arisen out of the revelation of child marriages here in the state of Florida with girls as young as 11 (these cases are not recent, but the victims are finally able to speak out now).
 
While Florida Family Action (FFA) was generally supportive of the bill, we expressed concern during committee weeks that the bill did not allow any exceptions for 16 and 17-year olds, who may need an exception if, for example, they are pregnant and wanted to get married because they are in love with each other and want to do the right thing. 
 
FFA opposes any public policy which encourages or creates incentives for cohabitation, rather than the lifelong committment of marriage. Studies show that the longer a couple cohabitates before marriage, the more likely the marriage is to end in divorce  The Senate passed the bill 37-0 on Wednesday, with absolutely no exceptions. On Thursday, the House picked up the companion bill and introduced an amendment which provides an exception for 16 and 17-year olds who are pregnant, no more than two years apart in age, and have parental consent.  FFA supported this amendment and the amended bill in committee. It remains to be seen as to whether the Senate will accept this change, but it is our sincere hope that they do. We believe that this is a reasonable compromise that addresses our concerns, protects girls from the very real threat of predators and human traffickers, helps to limit marriages for immigration purposes, and makes Florida the leading state in the nation on this issue. 

Another bill that we have been watching, but have not formally listed on our legislative agenda relates to churches with schools on their property. The bill would allow these churches to determine whether concealed weapons permit holders are allowed to carry a gun on their property. Currently, Florida law prohibits nearly all individuals, including concealed weapon permit holders, from carrying guns onto public and private school property. Some Florida sheriffs have asked the Legislature to clarify that churches may choose to allow permit holders to carry while on their property as it is church property, not school property. Given recent events and the increased need for security, we believe this to be good public policy and have chosen to support it in both the House and Senate. The bill moved forward in both the House and Senate this week and is ready to be heard on the floor of both chambers.  

Constitution Revision Commission Update

CRC Commissioner John Stemberger presenting Proposal 22
to the CRC’s Judicial Committee on Thursday 

The Constitution Revision Commission’s Judicial Committee took up Proposal 22, the Florida Privacy Restoration Act, at its Thursday meeting.  The proposed amendment would clarify that the privacy clause in Florida’s Constitution guarantees a right to informational privacy. Opinions by the Florida Supreme Court in recent years have not upheld a right to informational privacy, but have granted other rights, such as a right to abortion. While abortion would remain constitutional under Roe v Wade if the Florida Privacy Restoration Act passed, it is possible that reasonable laws regulating abortion, such as parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion, would now be ruled constitutional. This has angered groups like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women. 

Proposal 22 was workshopped before it was picked up by the committee. During the workshop, an expert on judicial activism from Ave Maria School of Law and Paul Linton, the leading expert in the nation on the right to privacy testified on behalf of Proposal 22 while Jon Mills, former Speaker of the Florida House, testified in opposition to the measure. When Commissioner Stemberger presented the bill it seemed clear that the 1977-78 CRC, the 1980 Legislature, the media, and the voters who voted to amend the Florida Constitution with our current privacy clause all understood that the right to privacy was to protect our personal and private information, not a right to abortion. Some committee members chose to ignore the intent by either stating that the constitutional language is clear (it isn’t) or that that the constitution is meant to evolve and so while that may not have been the intent, we are better off with the interpretation of the Florida Supreme Court. In the end, the committee voted against the measure in a 2-4 vote.  

Now, for this week’s update on our 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: None this week. 

 

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: 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: None this week.

 

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 protestors 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: None this week. 

 

CULTURE

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

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

Action: None this week. 

 

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: None this week. 

 

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.

Action: The House bill was heard Tuesday by the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and passed with no opposition in a 12-0 vote. There was no action on the Senate version this week.

 

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. Byron Donalds (R-Naples) presents
HB 1: Hope Scholarship Program to the House
PreK-12 Appropriations Committee Tuesday.

Action: The House version was heard by the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday. Several amendments to the bill were adopted, including an increase to the tax credit available to motorists voluntarily contributing funds to this program when they purchase a vehicle in Florida and an appropriation of $2 million annually to the Florida Department of Education to administer the program. Some representatives questioned whether or not there were already school district policies in place and programs to deal with bullying. They advocated for increased funding for these anti-bullying programs in public schools, rather than creating a new scholarship for victims to attend private or charter schools.

Rep. Raburn (R-Valrico) spoke up passionately in support of the bill “I totally recognize that there are school districts that are doing the right thing, there are schools and communities that are addressing problems in classrooms when kids are being bullied, but unfortunately, that’s not happening everywhere. We’ve passed anti-bullying bills in the past, and what we’ve seen is we still have a problem.”

Opponents to the bill claimed that taxpayer dollars under this program would be funneled away from public schools into a “troubled” system (private/charter schools) with little accountability, that the bill was in favor of special interests, or that it forces the victims to leave their school while not dealing with the student who is the bully. It should be noted that nothing in this bill prohibits the school and/or school district from taking appropriate action in regards to the student who is bullying other students. In fact, it is because schools are not always appropriately handling these situations that the bill is necessary.  

The sponsor, Rep. Donalds (R-Naples), closed on the bill by reminding those gathered that this bill is giving parents the information and opportunity to make the best decision for their child, not funneling money to certain groups or forcing victims from their schools. The bill passed 9-4 in a party-line vote. The Senate version of the bill was not heard this week.

 

FREE SPEECH

 

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. 

Amber Kelly of FFA on Free Speech Bill

FFA’s Amber Kelly testifies on HB 909 citing three cases in which 
universities interfered with or prohibited free speech on campus

Action: The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee heard the bill on Tuesday. Amber Kelly testified in support of the bill on behalf of Florida Family Action (her testimony begins at 1:22:25). While the committee chair was working to move quickly because of a packed agenda, a number of groups showed up to testify in support of the bill. Sadly, one group who opposed the bill was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which supposedly fights for free speech. Rep. Jamie Grant (R-Tampa) questioned the ACLU attorney about how and when they choose when to protect free speech since they were opposing the bill. The ACLU claimed that the bill would chill free speech because universities could be held liable if they do not prohibit a material disruption of a students’ free speech and so they would crack down on others. However, across the country, we’ve seen that university administrations have directly interfered with or prohibited free speech on campus which makes this bill necessary. While some committee members expressed some discomfort with the idea of a cause of action, the bill passed its second committee in a 11-4 vote. 

 

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: 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: 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: None this week. 

 

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: The bill was scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but was postponed. There was no action on the Senate bill.  

 

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: The bill was scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but was postponed. There was no action on the Senate bill.  

 

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: The bill was discussed during the Office of Economic & Demographic Research (EDR) Criminal Justice Impact Conference on Monday. Research shared during the conference indicated that the current average sentence length for these type of offenses is about 9.2 years. The bill has yet to be heard in committee. 

 

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: The bill was scheduled to be heard by the full Senate on Thursday, but the bill sponsor requested a temporary postponement as he is working on the language of the bill. It is expected that they will pick it back up when they meet again next Wednesday. 

 

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:  None this week. 

 

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: None this week. 

 

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.

FFPC President John Stemberger shares examples of marriage
handbooks from other states Tuesday during his testimony on
SB 1580 in the Senate Judiciary Committee

Action: Both the House and Senate bills were heard in committee on Tuesday. FFPC President John Stemberger spoke to the House Children Families and Seniors Subcommittee and the Senate Judiciary Committee highlighting the importance of creating a skill-based, non-sectarian guide to help all Florida couples with tools and resources to strengthen their marriage and relationships.

He argued that the state has a compelling interest in strengthening marriage and family structures. You can hear FFPC President John Stemberger’s full testimony to the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee starting at 42:16

Sen. Kelli Stargel Florida Guide to Healthy Marriage

Richard Albertson of Live the Life Ministries Tallahassee 
and FFPC President John Stemberger pictured with 
SB 1580 bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland)


Some legislators opposed the bill, voicing their concerns over whether this new handbook could truly be non-sectarian and beneficial to all Florida couples.  One such representative was Democratic Ranking Member Rep. McGhee (D-Miami) who voiced his concern that pro-life, pro-religious groups might inject their ideologies into this handbook and that a sitting Republican Governor, House Speaker, and Senate President would not select a fair and balanced committee. Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) objected to Rep. McGhee’s questioning and assessment of the issue, calling it the “saddest display he’s ever seen.” The guide is intended to be a non-partisan guide to help couples navigate their marriage, regardless of their religious affiliation, party affiliation, race, etc. 

The House bill passed its second (of three committees) in a  9-2 vote and the Senate bill passed its first committee in a  9-1 vote.   

 

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: None this week. 

 

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: None this week. 

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