( Florida Phoenix ) – From threatening students’ free speech on college campuses to making it easier for powerful people to sue for defamation, lawmakers have been filing bills in 2024 that are bad, according to Florida’s First Amendment Foundation.
The foundation is tracking the proposals and fighting back, hoping to get lawmakers to fix the problems in the bills or ditch them entirely.
“Our representatives need to know that you think these are bad bills and should not be passed,” said Bobby Block, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation.
“This is our fight every year.” Block said in a 2024 Legislative Action document.
Though a handful of bills are “pretty good,” Block describes the 2024 legislation as “many dreadful bills.”
He adds in the document:
“Some of these bills – especially the ones trying to make it easier for rich and powerful people to sue their critics for what they write or say online, on the airways, and in print – are among the biggest threats to free expression in the nation. They join other bills that would criminalize student’s right to protest and would turn university administrators into secret police, requiring them to report students to the Department of Homeland Security. Others would try again to exempt the identities of law enforcement officers who hurt or kill suspects in the line of duty, claiming they are victims, not civil servants doing their job in your name.”
Here’s a list from the First Amendment Foundation categorized as “bills we are dedicated to fighting.” They will be tracking those bills throughout the two-month session.
HB 85: Pub. Rec./State Banks and State Trust Companies.
“This bill seeks to create an exemption that would hide information, including shareholders and applications for new state banks and financial institutions, shielding the public from knowing who is behind them and stinging them. This also can shield these institutions from public scrutiny.”
HB 465: Postsecondary Education Students
This bill threatens students’ free speech rights by banning certain student groups from college campuses. It also threatens to increase college tuition or remove scholarship options from students who engage in certain pro-Palestinian speech.
SB 470: Postsecondary Education Students
This is the companion bill to HB465. This bill threatens students’ free speech rights by banning certain student groups from college campuses. It also threatens to increase college tuition or remove scholarship options from students who engage in certain pro-Palestinian speech.
HB 757: Defamation, False Light, and Unauthorized Publication of Name or Likenesses
We fought this bill last year, and now it is back in the House and Senate. This bill would decrease the free speech rights of media, journalists, broadcasters, radio, and religious publications by making it easier for powerful public figures to sue for defamation.
SB 1086: Defamation
This bill is similar to HB757 and SB1780 in that it seeks to make it easier for powerful individuals to sue for defamation. It also seeks to reverse Floridian judicial precedent by introducing a “false light” standard for defamation … any of these would be a blow for free speech and free press … they would be a boon for trial lawyers and would turn Florida into the libel tourist destination of America. They are blatantly unconstitutional.
HB 1605: Crime Victim’s Rights
This bill redefines who is defined as a victim under Marsy’s Law, written to include “law enforcement officers, correctional officers, or correctional probation officers who use deadly force in the course and scope of their employment or official duties.”
The Historic Capitol, foreground, and Florida Capitol buildings. Photo, Colin Hackley
HB 1607: Pub. Rec./Crime Victim’s Rights
Last year, the FL Supreme Court ruled that Marsy’s Law does not protect the identity of police officers involved in fatal shootings from disclosure. This bill seeks to reverse that decision and exempt the identities of police officers who claim to be crime victims.
SB 1780: Defamation, False Light, and Unauthorizes Publication of Name or Likenesses
This is the companion bill to HB 757 that would decrease the free speech rights of media, journalists, broadcasters, radio, and religious publications by making it easier for powerful public figures to sue for defamation. It also seeks to reverse 60+ years of judicial precedent by changing the actual malice standard.
Another category, “Opposed Legislation” are “bills we encourage you to write in opposition to your representatives about.”
Those bills include HB 395, Protection of Historical Monuments and Memorials, which “penalizes any individual, elected official, or city that attempts to or supports a movement to remove a historical monument.”
Another bill, HB 999, Gender Identity Employer Practices, “limits speech by prohibiting government workers or employees … from using preferred pronouns or names of themselves or of coworkers.”