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House backs education law expansion

By Ryan Dailey

News Service of Florida

March 31, 2023

TALLAHASSEE --- The Florida House on Friday took a step toward expanding a controversial 2022 law that prevents instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in early school grades, approving a measure that would broaden the prohibition through eighth grade.

The wide-ranging bill (HB 1069) also seeks to restrict the way teachers and students can use preferred pronouns in schools and bolsters a process for people to object to instructional materials and school-library books.

The Republican-controlled House voted 77-35 along almost straight party lines to pass the bill. Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, R-Coral Gables, and Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, crossed party lines to vote against the bill.

The 2022 law bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The law, which has drawn national attention, was formally titled “Parental Rights in Education,” but critics have disparagingly called it the “don’t say gay” law.

The measure passed Friday would expand the prohibition from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Rep. Chase Tramont, R-Port Orange, said the bill is “pro-family, it is pro-teacher, it is pro-education.”

“It is pro-family because it takes some of the most-sensitive and personal issues and discussions and it keeps them in the homes where it is the responsibility of the parent to determine the manner in which, and frankly the timing in which, some of these issues and conversations should be taking place,” Tramont said.

But Democrats criticized the attempt to expand the 2022 law.

“Look, the LGBTQ community isn’t going away, trans people aren’t going away. What has gone away, that I pray comes back, is human decency,” Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, said.

Rep. Marie Woodson, D-Hollywood, argued that the “expansion of the original ‘don’t say gay’ bill will continue to cause confusion, fear and even more problems than we had with the original bill.”

Other parts of the bill sparked at-times heated debate.

The bill would restrict the way teachers and students can use preferred pronouns in schools. It would bar school employees from telling students their preferred pronouns if those pronouns “do not correspond to his or her sex” and prevent employees from asking students about their preferred pronouns.

Rep. Ashley Gantt, D- Miami, characterized that part of the measure as overly vague.

“There’s nothing defined in this bill that would direct a teacher or students on what personal titles or pronouns are. There’s no definition. And furthermore, there’s no recourse for parents to advocate for their students or for their child in school to be addressed as they desire. And I think that that is a failure in this bill for parents and parents’ rights,” Gantt said.

But Rep. Adam Anderson, a Palm Harbor Republican who is a sponsor of the bill, said during a floor discussion Thursday that the state has processes to deal with such disputes.

“In current school standards, there is a process actually for that, that exists. A parent can engage 

with a school in what they call a transition plan. It can involve a number of different things, different services, special treatment in the school. It can involve changing their name, among a number of other areas,” Anderson said.

The bill also would build on a 2022 law about objections to instructional materials and school-library books. For example, the bill would require that objection forms must be “easy to read and understand,” accessible on school districts’ websites and include points of contact at districts for filing objections.

Also, if a complaint contends material includes pornography or “describes sexual conduct,” the material would be removed within five days of the complaint and “remain unavailable to students of that school until the objection is resolved.”

Arguing against the proposal, Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, said Friday that “every student in the state of Florida has the right to read.”

“The problem with this bill is that there are no common-sense guardrails. Number one, anyone can pull a book. They don’t even have to live in the state of Florida. They don’t have to be a parent. They just can say, ‘I don’t like that book,’ and they get to pull it,” Bartleman said.

But Rep. Ralph Massulo, R-Lecanto, echoed many supporters of the bill in saying that it is geared toward boosting parents’ rights.

“If a book is pornographic, and not age-appropriate, I don’t want my child to read it. and I know you all don’t either. Or I hope you don’t. Because that’s a priority of a parent. Members, it’s time we start allowing children to be children,” Massulo said.

A similar Senate bill (SB 1320) would need approval from the Fiscal Policy Committee before it could be considered by the full Senate.

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