By Janelle Irwin Taylor
January 13, 2020
Every year lawmakers file a slew of bills. They registered nearly 2,000 last year. Fewer than 200 passed.
Most of those efforts fly under the radar — various relief efforts to repay those wronged by the state in some way, new specialty license plate, pet projects for lawmakers local communities.
Some are high profile like gun control measures and abortion bills.
But every year sees some eyebrow-raising or otherwise quirky measures that could be filed under the C+C Music Factory tag, things that make you go hmmm.
Florida Politics did a quick scroll through the hundreds and hundreds of bills filed for this year’s 2020 Legislative Session, picking out 10 bills that are either wildly unlikely to pass, frightfully ideologic — or just plain kooky.
Here’s our list of bills that should make you go ‘Hmm.’.
HB 319 — A Florida guide to a healthy marriage
This gem, filed by Rep. Clay Yarborough and co-sponsored by conservative firebrand Anthony Sabatini, would create a six-member committee of marriage counseling experts appointed by the Governor, Senate President, and House Speaker to establish a handy guide for marriage success.
The guide would include things like conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities, domestic violence resources and parenting responsibilities.
Like a website requiring acknowledgment of its policies, couples would have to affirm they have received and read the guide.
Few could argue it’s a not good idea for couples to know what they’re getting into before walking down the aisle. But what many may say is it’s not the state’s role to play such a large part in determining the do’s and do not’s of marriage. There’s much to point to in this bill.
First, under the state’s current elected makeup, the committee would be stacked by only Republicans — the House, Senate, and Governor’s Mansion are all held by Republicans who tout family values as a core tenet of their policies. Would same-sex couples find information relevant to their unique challenges in marriage like non—biological child-rearing? What about transgender couples?
Further, the bill calls for raising private funding to pay for the pamphlets or online materials. Could that give religious groups an outsized say in what the guide suggests? Could a guide suggest, or even promote, traditional gender roles many Floridians might reject?
The goals of this bill might be altruistic. Still, in an era when Florida lawmakers are consistently lambasted by local governments and women’s groups for overreach into local policies and women’s healthcare, this one seems like it’s doomed to an onslaught of overreach criticism.
HB 613 — Intellectual freedom in state universities
This bill, filed by Republican Ray Rodrigues, is a pretty obvious answer to conservative fears that universities are a hotbed of liberalism.
A 2017 Pew Research study found that 58% of Republicans surveyed held a negative view on the impact of colleges and universities on the country. A FiveThirtyEight analysis in 2016 found that education was a key driver for President Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.
Rodrigues’ bill addresses that by requiring colleges and universities to publish a comprehensive analysis “that considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented, and members of the college community feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”
While it’s no doubt important for students with all world views to have opportunities to express them (looking at you First Amendment,) this bill offers the proverbial slippery slope.
Would universities feel pressured to include creationism as a valid scientific theory on life? How about climate change? Would they be forced to question the proven science behind it? Would alternative historical analysis on the Civil War become a teaching point where Confederate supporters dismissed the war not as a civil war but as a War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression?
Should there be a class on the merits of the earth actually being flat?
State universities and colleges already have the representation of differing views. College Republicans counter college Democrats. For every left-leaning demonstration on campus, conservative critics are free to offer their own opinions.
But there is a difference between the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression and expecting shared views on theories that have been debunked, which this bill could ostensibly address.
HB 341 — Bible study in schools
Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, sponsored this effort to drag religion back into schools. Co-sponsors include Republicans Mike Hill and Sabatini. Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley is sponsoring the Senate companion.
It would mandate public schools “offer specified courses relating to religion, Hebrew Scriptures, and the Bible to certain students as elective courses.”
The bill does not refer to other holy books like the Koran, Islam’s holy book. That’s a quick indication that the bill isn’t about promoting religious education equality.
Florida law already allows public schools to offer such courses as electives. Daniels’ bill, which she also filed in 2019, would make such electives a mandatory option.
Critics question whether the measure is constitutional, separation of church and state and all.
Of course, students would not have to take the classes. They could opt for other electives instead. Still, given its lack of traction last year, this is an effort unlikely to get far.
Senate Memorial 1652 — To add another U.S. Senator to any state that has more than 6 million population
This bill probably makes sense to a lot of people, regardless of party affiliation. Democratic Sen. LoriBerman filed a memorial that would call on Congress to pass legislation to add a third United States Senator to states where the population is above 6 million.
Currently, each state, regardless of population, has two U.S. Senators. Berman’s bill argues the Founding Fathers created the two—Senator framework to protect smaller states from being dwarfed by larger ones.
“The population of larger states has since grown to numbers unimaginable to our founding fathers, headed by California, with an estimated population of 40 million people, followed by Texas, with a population of nearly 30 million people, and Florida, now ranked the third most populous state, with nearly 22 million people,” the bill reads. “The smallest states by populations, Wyoming and Vermont, have populations barely in excess of half million people, less than the current population of the District of Columbia.”
She argues that the system leaves just 30 percent of the state electing 70 percent of the Senate.
“Were this system not provided for directly in the United States Constitution, it would be manifestly unconstitutional for reasons including that the system would be a denial of equal protection, and of the one person, one vote principle prevalent in all other elections,” the bill reads.
Fair enough. But what makes this bill quirky is its unlikelihood of passage. Even if the Legislature were to adopt it, the measure is purely symbolic. It would require Congressional action unlikely to succeed in a partisan Capitol Hill, especially considering two-thirds of both the House and Senate to approve it. Further, 75% of states would have to ratify it for it to amend the U.S. Constitution.
The pair of proposals by Reps. Joe Geller and Dotie Joseph and Sen. Vic Torres, all Democrats, would do just as its name suggests — use the popular vote, rather than the Electoral College, to elect the President of the United States.
The bill would add Florida to a coalition of states agreeing to forgo the Electoral College, where each state is assigned several electoral votes based on population in favor of a popular vote system that uses the actual number of votes to determine the winner of a Presidential election.
It’s no wonder Democrats back this proposal. Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton but won the Electoral College. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000. Further, a National Bureau of Economic Research study found that one—third of presidential candidates who win the popular vote by less than two percentage points could still lose the Electoral College.
A total of 16 states have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, according to National Popular Vote Inc., a non—profit group supporting the effort. This bill would add Florida to that list. That list accounts for 196 of the 270 electoral votes needed to change the way Presidential elections are decided. Florida carries 29 electoral votes, not enough to change the outcome, but a big chunk of the remaining 74 needed.
This is a prevalent issue and one that has been debated for years. But it’s likely to be dismissed by the Republican-controlled legislature as another effort among Democrats to gain an edge in federal politics.
HB 6001 — Relating to guns on campus
Rebooting an issue that comes up just about every year in the Florida Legislature, Rep. Anthony Sabatini is reviving a campus carry bill that would allow concealed carry permit holders to holster their weapons on college campuses.
Sabatini’s bill removes a section of Florida’s concealed carry statute that says permit carriers cannot bring guns to college and university facilities. The statute today only allows registered students and faculty to carry stun guns and nonlethal electric weapons.
The bill “eradicates the gun-free zones of college campuses in Florida by allowing concealed weapon permit holders to carry on campus,” Sabatini wrote when he announced the bill last summer.
He’s filed it last year, too, and vowed to file it every year until it passes.
Similar measures have passed in the Florida House, but never in the state Senate. This year, Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, nixed any prospect of hearing campus-carry in that chamber.
Even Florida State University President John Thrasher, a former Republican speaker of the House, opposes the measure.
HB 271 — Abortion
Hill renewed his efforts to pass a fetal heartbeat bill this year after his proposal fell flat last year.
The bill would ban abortions in cases where a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which, as critics frequently point out, is often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.
The bill carries a third-degree felony charge for any “person who knowingly or purposefully performs or induces an abortion on a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of the pre-born human being whose pre-born intrauterine heartbeat has been detected.”
The bill has sparked debate nationwide as other states have also sought to implement such laws. But it appears even too controversial for the Republican-led Florida Legislature. 2019 efforts failed after committees in both the House and Senate failed to take up the bill.
HB 119 — Sensory Deprivation Tanks
In this year’s version of “why is this even necessary,” Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani filed a bill that would spell out in Florida law that these tanks are NOT swimming pools and prohibit agencies from regulating them as such.
If anyone has ever enjoyed (or hated) a sensory deprivation tank, they know that it is either a large bathtub in a very dark room or an enclosed pod with a body-sized tank.
The idea is to soak users in a tub full of body temperature water heavily saturated with salt to give the body the essence of nothingness. The salt allows the body to float. The water temperature makes it so the body doesn’t feel the water and the dark and silent atmosphere shuts out all feeling.
In no way, shape or fashion could such tanks be misconstrued as a swimming pool. But, OK.
This bill by Democratic Sen. Lauren Book would authorize the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to pay for donor breast milk for infants weighing 3.3 pounds or less receiving Medicaid services. It would apply to infants whose doctors had ordered donor breast milk in cases when their biological mother was unable to provide it.
Medicaid covers around 60 percent of the costs for Florida’s 223,000 annual births, according to the lawmakers. Fewer than one percent of those births result in extremely low birth weights.
Often, those infants rely on pasteurized breast milk, provided through donations. But that milk is not currently covered by Medicaid
It’s widely held that premature, low—weight infants thrive better from breast milk than formula. But queue questions about the state paying a higher cost for donor breast milk than formula.
A similar effort died in the 2019 Legislative Session. Neither even got a vote.
Senate Resolution 214 — White Nationalism
This effort, sponsored by Democrat José Javier Rodríguez, offers a sanctioned resolution “condemning white nationalism and white supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance which contradict the values that define the people of Florida and the United States.”
That this needs to be stated is troubling. There’s pretty much unanimous consent that slavery was bad. Racist segregation-era policies have also been condemned. Yet the country continues to see acts of white supremacy.
If anyone votes against this resolution or fails to put it on the agenda, well, shame.