Proposed laws stir up controversy as they move through Florida's Legislature

Florida is about halfway through its legislative session in Tallahassee, and some controversial bills are one or two committees away from a vote on the chamber floor.

The proposed laws range from restricting curriculum related to critical race theory, election laws, and security and abortion rights. 

Many of the laws have been positioned as protections for the rights of parents, the unborn, and democratic processes, but the bills' opponents say the so-called protections may do more harm than good.

With roughly one month left in the session, lawmakers are pushing proposals through committees in hopes of getting their plans onto the floor for a vote before March 11.

15-week abortion bill

"I believe strongly that life begins at conception. I believe strongly that these are babies in women’s wombs, and I want to protect them," said State Sen. Kelli Stargel, (R-Lakeland) on Feb. 2.

House Bill 167’s Texas-style abortion ban bill hasn’t progressed, but HB 5’s Mississippi-style ban is moving through committees. It seeks to ban abortion at 15 weeks in Florida. Planned Parenthood Florida said the bill is close to a vote.

"We just found out today that it will have another hearing, its last stop in the House of Representatives this Thursday morning, which is really concerning," said Laura Goodhue, the executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. "Unfortunately, what we see again is politicians interfering in these personal private decisions that should only be made by pregnant people in consultation with their family or their doctor if they desire."

Election police force

After the 2020 election, Senate Bill 524 seeks to change election laws and make a police force dedicated to suspected fraud. The bill has cleared one committee so far and will be heard next in the Appropriations Committee. Florida State University law professor Michael Morley explained how some may view this bill.  

"One potential argument in favor of the system of in favor of having specialized investigators looking into those types of things is that it acts as a confirmation for the public. Opponents of the bill would say, you know, in the absence of evidence that there is substantial current problems we should focus those resources elsewhere instead," said Morley. "On the whole, the system has tended to be very secure. It's just that part of the issue is, it's one thing to say that there haven't been that many documented instances and particularly in recent years. But then the bigger question is are we looking for it, right? Are there people out there specifically trying to hunt it down?"

History education vs. Critical Race Theory

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is targeting critical race theory, which focuses on the existence of systemic racism and is typically only taught at the collegiate level. Still, Republic lawmakers are backing it with proposed legislation.

"No race is inherently superior to another race and no race is inherently racist," said State Rep. Bryan Avila, (R-Miami Springs) on Feb. 1.

House Bill 7 bans concepts of critical race theory and systemic racism from being taught in K-12 schools, as well as at businesses, and the bill already cleared two committees. Education experts said the proposal highlights a larger culture war nationwide and could hurt schools trying to teach basic history, and workplaces that aim to promote equity and inclusion.

"So if we are afraid to talk about ethnicity and race, how do we keep account of disparities, inequities that come forth out of our practices, regardless of whether we intend that to happen, you know?" said Vonzell Agosto, a professor at the University of South Florida on policy studies, women and gender studies. "If you think about it, a lot of corporations they put forth a lot of diversity training or anti-bias training because of the complaints, the litigation that happens when people are discriminated against or when people are disproportionately subjected to sort of negative outcomes. And if that training were to go away, then they would open themselves up to have more complaints and more cases of discrimination and potentially loss of funds, loss of income, loss of profits."

‘Don’t say gay'

Also, Senate Bill 1834 got its first approval Tuesday, looking to discourage discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. 

Critics have called the proposed legislation the "don’t say gay" bill. 

Supporters said those talks are for parents and sets responsibilities for teachers. But opponents say it removes teachers who may be a lifeline for vulnerable LGBTQ+ adolescents. 

None of the bills are on the House or Senate floor for a full vote yet, but some are very close with just one more month to go in the 2022 legislative session.