(The Center Square) – If the first day of Florida’s 2021 Legislature is an indication, dominant Republicans plan to push the pedal in rapidly advancing a raft of conservative legislation before the 60-day session ends in May.
Bills adopting COVID-19 liability waivers for businesses, encoding a “parent’s bill of rights” and creating “technology transparency” standards to combat alleged social media censorship all moved Tuesday immediately after the session formally convened.
Other GOP legislative priorities are also poised to fast-track to floor votes, including bills to impose criminal penalties on certain protesters, revamp the state’s pension plan, further enlarge the nation’s biggest school choice program, censor China and erect new mail-in ballot requirements as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “election transparency” initiative that Democrats say is unconstitutional “voter suppression.”
That effort was augmented Tuesday when Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, filed Senate Bill 1890, which would limit contributions to $1,000 for political committees that sponsor “a constitutional amendment proposed by initiative.”
Republican-priority bills poised for swift floor adoptions include:
COVID-19 liability protections: The Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee advanced SB 72 in a partisan 7-4 vote. The proposal has one hearing before the Rules Committee before advancing to the chamber floor.
SB 72, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would provide protections for businesses, schools, nonprofits and religious institutions that make a “good faith effort” to follow government health guidelines.
A Republican leadership priority, the House version – House Bill 7, filed by Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover – has already passed through three committees and will be read on the House floor Thursday.
SB 72/HB 7 would retroactively apply to newly filed lawsuits and require plaintiffs to obtain affidavits from Florida physicians stating defendants’ acts or inaction caused damages.
“The purpose of this bill is to recognize the world is full of incomplete information about COVID-19 and ever-changing contradictory guidance people, businesses and other entities sometimes received,” Brandes said. “And they need protection from opportunistic lawsuits.”
SB 72/HB 7 preclude the health care industry. Proposed liability shields for health care providers that “substantially” follow government-issued standards and guidance are addressed in SB 74, also filed by Brandes, and HB 7005, proposed by the House Health & Human Services Committee.
SB 72 was heard Wednesday by the Senate Health Policy Committee with one hearing before the Rules panel needed to reach the Senate floor.
HB 7005 advanced through the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee Tuesday in a 12-6 partisan tally. It next goes before the Judiciary Committee, its last stop before a floor vote.
Social media censorship: The House Commerce Committee Tuesday approved two proposals that would require social media companies to meet “technology transparency” standards.
Advancing in 16-8 partisan votes, PCB COM 21-01 would, among other things, bar social media companies from blocking political candidates from platforms and give the Florida Elections Commission power to fine violators, and PCB COM 21-02 would provide public records exemptions for law enforcement investigations into violations of social media regulations.
The House bills are similar to SB 520 and SB 1914 filed by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, which await hearings before the Senate’s Judiciary, Commerce & Tourism and Rules committees.
The urgency in addressing social media censorship stems, in part, from decisions by Twitter and Facebook to block former President Donald Trump from their platforms in January.
"Parental Bill of Rights Act": Both House and Senate versions of this year’s Parental’ Bill of Rights Act received partisan committee endorsements Tuesday.
The House Health & Human Services Committee approved HB 241 in a 13-7 tally with all panel Democrats voting "no" shortly after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced SB 582 in an 8-3 party-line vote.
Next up for HB 241, filed by Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, are hearings before the House Judiciary and Education & Employment committees. SB 582, sponsored by Rodrigues, awaits hearings before the Senate Education and Rules panels.
Grall, who sponsored last year’s version of the bill, said a Parental Bill of Rights will prevent the “use and abuse of authority by actors of the state.”
Rodrigues told the Senate Judiciary Committee the act does not “enumerate” new rights but merely spells them out in one place.