Florida Family Policy Council’s Insider’s Report
Week Three of Nine in the Florida Legislative Session
The Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC) hosted its annual Pro Family Days in Tallahassee this week. On Monday, FFPC trained attendees how to lobby and updated them on current bills and issues. We were joined by policy experts Bill Bunkley, Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Michele Taylor, Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, John Sowinski of No Casinos, and Rev. Mario Bramnick, Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition. The event was held at the Civic Center in Tallahassee and gathered 155 supporters from all across the state and 175 for the Legislative Prayer Breakfast. See a photo of yourself or someone you know attended from the photo album of the event on our Facebook page HERE.
On Tuesday, the second day of the Pro-Family Days event, Florida Family Policy Council hosted its 3ndAnnual Legislative Prayer Breakfast. The event was attended by over 175 individuals, including 10 elected officials. Guest speakers included Commissioner Adam Putnam, Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran, President-Designate Joe Negron, Representative Mike Hill, Representative Scott Plakon, Representative Jennifer Sullivan, Representative Dennis Baxley, and Reverend Mario Bramnick. We hope you will make plans to attend this amazing event next year.
During the event, Florida Family Policy Council recognized and honored Rev. Mario Bramnick as an individual who “Broke the Silence,” honoring him for his dedication to lead pastors in South Florida and around the country.
Meet the FFPC / FFA 2016 Legislative team: Amber Kelly and Courtney Gager are both hard at work full-time on the ground in Tallahassee at the Capitol coordinating and reporting back to our President, John Stemberger, on a daily if not hourly basis. Amber has worked in Washington, DC on international political development programs before working on various grassroots efforts over the past couple of years while teaching at the River School of Government in Tampa. Amber is also serving as a Field Director during the 2016 election cycle. Courtney has interned at the governor’s office, private lobbying firms and worked in communications for the Department of Health. Courtney’s served FFPC and FFA as our Communications and Legislative Assistant since March 2015.
The Legislature meets for committees several weeks during the fall in preparation for legislative session the next spring. During this time, legislators hold workshops, review, draft, and vote on bills. The first three weeks of session (this year’s 60-day session began January 12th) are critical to the viability of any bill. Typically, if a bill has not started moving by this third week, it is considered dead, as other bills that have moved past their first few committees in either the House or Senate are given precedence. There are exceptions, but this is the general rule.
Here are a few bills that saw action this week:
HB 1411/SB 1722: “Termination of Pregnancies” by Rep. Burton (R-Lakeland); Sen. Stargel (R-Lakeland)
Several abortion bills have come before the Legislature this week, including HB 1411/SB 1722: Termination of Pregnancies by Rep. Burton and Sen. Stargel. Simply put, this bill revises abortion clinics’ care standards and prohibits public funding of abortion facilities.
The House version, HB 1411 by Rep. Burton, was heard for the first time on Monday by the House Health Policy Committee. Planned Parenthood, Equality Florida and other reproductive rights groups packed the room with individuals strongly opposed to the bill. FFA’s Amber Kelly stood strong and passionately defended the bill, clarifying to the committee and those gathered, that the bill aligns regulation standards on abortion clinics to that of other office surgery centers performing invasive procedures—debunking the opposition’s argument that the bill was unconstitutionally restricting abortions and would revert Florida to pre-Roe v. Wade illegal-style abortions and women performing self-induced abortions. The bill passed narrowly 7-6, with two Republicans, Rep. Rene Plasencia (R-Orlando) and Rep. Mike Miller (R-Orlando), voting against. After the committee, FFA staff had a chance to thank Rep. Burton for sponsoring this good bill.
On Tuesday, during FFPC’s Pro-Family Days, the Senate version, SB 1722 by Sen. Stargel, was heard by the Senate Health Policy Committee. Several of FFPC’s Pro-Family Days attendees testified or waived in support of the bill. Just like in the House committee, the Senate committee faced strong opposition by Planned Parenthood and others. FFPC President & General Counsel John Stemberger spoke in support of the bill, saying “In the 1990s, the Clinton Administration developed a phrase to characterize what it meant to be pro-choice or pro-abortion rights—that abortions should be safe, rare, and legal. If that is still the definition of what it means to be pro-choice or pro-abortion rights, then you can still affirm this bill.” He went on to say that strengthening regulations on these clinics and requiring admitting privileges ensures that the abortion doctors are local, accountable and well-known by the community and that abortion only occurs in rare situations. Listen to a NPR station report on the committee testimony and the bill HERE:
SB 1116/HB 947: Relating to Long-acting Reversible Contraception Pilot Program by Sen. Joyner (D-Tampa); Rep. Berman (D-Boynton Beach
In addition to Sen. Stargel’s bill SB 1722 on abortion regulations, the Senate Health Policy Committee heard SB 1116 by Sen. Joyner, which creates a state-funded long-acting reversible contraception pilot program (IUD, etc.) that would be required to contract with a 3rd party to implement the contraception program for qualified low-income women in Hillsborough, Palm Beach, and Pinellas Counties over a period of 3 years. Proponents of this legislation justified this state use of $75,000.00 as a caring gesture for the low-income communities of these three heavily populated counties. In contrast to the 5-3 vote by this committee on Sen. Stargel’s bill, this bill passed 7-2 with the help of 4 Republicans.
We are concerned that this pilot program, not only encourages sexual activity outside of marriage, but also may be a veiled attempt to fund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to “keep their lights on,” allowing them to focus their personal funds on other services, such as abortion.
HB 865/ SB 1718: “Relating to Abortion” by Rep. Van Zant (R-Palatka); Sen. Evers (R-Milton)
Historically, on Monday, HB 865 by Rep. Van Zant was heard by the House Criminal Justice Committee. This major abortion bill, directly challenging Roe v. Wade, has been filed for many years but has never been discussed by a committee. Going on the record in support of a total ban on abortion, the committee voted 8-3 in favor of the bill. FFA supported this legislation in committee.
Sadly, if the bill (and its Senate companion) continued through the Legislature and passed, it would immediately be struck down as unconstitutional under state and federal precedent. Only when the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade and makes the issue a proper matter of states’ rights could this bill be effective. It’s also important to note that Florida has a judicially created right to privacy in the state constitution even more powerful than found in Roe.
The US Supreme Court decision in June regarding same-sex marriage did not just confuse state marriage laws around the country, it also created a domino effect of confusion in other areas of family law.
To be clear: the Obergefell decision did not require states to revise their family law regarding adoption, birth records, parentage or divorce. However, LGBT groups are now calling for revisions in family law, in education, and in the workforce. These groups successfully removed gender from Florida’s marriage licenses this summer, and are currently suing the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics in Federal Court for not doing the same for birth certificates. The state currently recognizes biological parents only on birth certificates.
Here are a few of these dangerous and unmandated bills currently being considered by the Florida Legislature:
HB 1151/SB 1542: “Relating to Parentage” by Rep. Richardson (D-Miami Beach; Sen. Soto (D-Kissimmee)
The idea of the traditional family as the cornerstone/foundation of the society is greatly threatened by our rapidly changing culture. This bill is a prime example.
Parentage in the past was determined within the understanding of the traditional marriage relationship—the mother was genetically related and the husband was understood as the father unless contested. However, due to various reproductive options—such as in vitro or artificial insemination, surrogacy, multiple sexual partners and now same-sex marriage, the parentage of a child is less clear.
Rep. Richardson, sponsoring HB 1151, argued several of these examples Monday, as reasons for Florida to “update” current statute to reflect the changing face of the American family. “Updating” this area of Florida Statute would effectively make this area of Florida Statute gender-neutral, replacing the words “father” and “mother” with “parents,” “spouse,” or “donor.”
The specific reason/example given by the bill sponsor as the need for this bill was that one parent in a same-sex marriage still must go before a judge to adopt the child, unlike automatic parentage of heterosexual marriages. Rep. Richardson stated that Florida was one of 4 states that have not aligned their statutes—either through agency rules or by court decisions with current “law”—referencing the Obergefell decision. FFA stood alone as the only public voice testifying in strong opposition before the committee, as we believe gender is an essential part of the family structure.
HB 43/SB 110 “Pastors Protection Act” by Rep. Plakon (R-Longwood) and Sen. Bean (R-Jacksonville)
The “Pastor’s Protection Act” was heard by both a House and Senate Committee this week, the bill passing the Senate committee 7-3, and temporarily postponed in the House committee due to time constraints. The proposed bill specifically provides that churches or religious organizations, related organizations, or certain individuals may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for related purposes if such action would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. It prohibits certain legal actions, penalties, or governmental sanctions against such individuals or entities.
This bill has been very contentious, with strong opposition by LGBT advocacy groups, asserting this bill is in direct result of the Obergefell decision and that it is an unnecessary and imagined issue. Opposing groups are also very concerned that other individuals, not just pastors, may have a right to refuse to solemnize a wedding or provide another service due to their sincerely-held religious beliefs. The example was brought up in the Senate committee, if a notary public who is able to solemnize a marriage, but is not a pastor would be protected by this legislation.
But from public testimony, it is clear that LGBT advocacy organizations believe that sincerely-held beliefs are fine if practiced inside churches and private homes, but when practiced in the public square or in places of businesses it is seen as discrimination and is not off limits for prosecution. “Leave your beliefs at home” was the clear message received this week. This message should greatly concern Christians and business owners in Florida in the light of another piece of legislation in front of the Florida Legislature this session, Florida’s Competitive Workforce Act (discussed next below).
HB 45/SB 120 “Competitive Workforce Act” by Rep. Raschein (R-Key Largo) and Sen. Abruzzo (D-Wellington)
Laws are being created around the country to be used as weapons to punish Christians living out their faith. Florida is no exception. Legislators are being asked to consider HB 45/SB 120 or “Florida’s Competitive Workforce Act,” which would add new, subjective categories to Florida’s Civil Rights Act of 1992. This bill would equate discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity or expression with discrimination due to race, religion, age, being handicapped, etc. The bill elevates a newfound sexual liberty over and above constitutionally protected free speech, religious liberty, and privacy interests granting a cause of action to sue employers and small businesses for “discrimination.”
SB 120 was introduced Tuesday in its first Senate Committee, but time ran out to finish discussing it or to vote on it. The Senate bill sponsor Sen. Abruzzo was visibly upset, but the chairman of the committee promised the bill would be heard at length at the committee’s next meeting.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee held its second workshop on the Seminole Gaming Compact on Wednesday. The Compact was signed by Governor Scott and the Seminole Tribe of Florida in December 2015, but must still be approved by the state Legislature in order for it to become law. (The State of Florida signed the first Seminole Compact in 2010, and at the time it was described as a firewall against the expansion of gambling in Florida. However, this new agreement allows for the largest expansion of gambling in Florida history!)
Last week at the first workshop, presentations were provided by staff from the Governor’s Office, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) and a spokesman for the Seminole Tribe of Florida regarding the provisions and implications of the compact. Senators on both sides of the aisle voiced displeasure over the accord. No public testimony was taken in the first workshop, due to lack of time, but in the second workshop the public had a chance to speak. John Sowinski of No Casinos testified on the proposed Compact in strong opposition to expanded gaming in the state, emphasizing that when looking at gambling economy, it’s hard to conclude that gambling is good economic policy.
Amy Baker, a key economist assisting the Legislature with economic and demographic research, warned that gambling expansion would cannibalize existing Florida business depending on where they’re located. According to the Miami Herald, “It’s the term used by state economists when one business feeds off the other to expand. The official definition: ‘creating demand for one product at the expense of another’ and it is central to the success of any changes in state gambling law now being debated by lawmakers.”
At the end of the workshop, Sen. Sachs (D-Delray Beach) mentioned her bill SB 1198: Department of Gaming, and suggested it be taken into account as the compact was being considered. SB 1198 would effectively combine Florida’s legalized gaming industries under one department, the Department of Gaming.
Regulated Industries Committee Chairman Sen. Bradley (R-Orange Park) indicated that the committee may be developing comprehensive gaming legislation in light of the Compact. He believes the Senate is on track in considering gaming legislation this year with 6 weeks left to address it. Sen. Bradley also said if there was a gaming bill that came out of the committee, he anticipates it wouldn’t go through the traditional 3 committee stops, it would head from the Regulated Industries Committee straight to the Senate Floor, something that a could happen very quickly. He indicated that any gaming compact or related legislation would take into consideration daily fantasy sports.
HB 707/SB 832: Relating to Fantasy Contests (“DraftKings/Fan Duel Fantasy Gaming”) by Rep. Gaetz (R-Shalimar); Sen. Negron (R-Palm City)
Many states are conflicted over whether the fantasy gaming industry is a form of gambling or a game of skill. Court cases are still pending in several states related to this issue. Season-long fantasy gaming has been around for a while, whether in office leagues or between friends. However, the type of fantasy gaming discussed in this bill is daily fantasy gaming through online websites such as DraftKings and FanDuel. The House sponsor admitted the bill legalizes fantasy sports gambling in the state, but others claim fantasy sports are not gaming and therefore not subject to certain regulations and should be regulated as arcades games. If adopted, this could conflict with provisions in the proposed Seminole Compact, which restricts all forms of online gaming in the state, unless the Tribe offers it first. The Senate and House versions of this fantasy gaming bill were both heard on Wednesday this week, passing 8-2 in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, and 15-3 in the House Finance and Tax Committee. FFA went on record in opposition to this bill before the committee. The fantasy gaming legislation has two more committee stops in the Senate, and one more committee stop in the House.
We oppose all gambling as an activity which has traditionally been considered a vice and a social ill which creates a number of other social problems for the individuals, families and communities touched by this conduct.
HB 835/SB 1522: Relating to Education by Rep. Eisnaugle (R-Orlando); Sen. Stargel (R-Lakeland)
While legal precedent is clear that parents have authority to educate their children at home, there has been a rise in incidents in recent years in the U.S. where school districts have been challenging homeschooling parents and requiring them to submit to additional government oversight. This bill protects the right of parents to educate their child in a manner they deem is in the best interest of their child, without fear of government overreach or intrusion. The bill also provides the opportunity for homeschool students to access certain school district programs and resources, and removes some of the financial and educational barriers that have put homeschoolers at an unintentional disadvantage to other Florida public school students. HB 835 by Rep. Eisnaugle was heard by the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday, and enjoyed bipartisan support in a unanimous vote. The Senate version of the bill has not yet been heard by a committee.
SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL
SB 86/HB 587: “Opposing Commercial Boycotts of Israel” by Sen. Negron (R-Palm City); Rep. Workman (R-Melbourne)
Florida enjoys more than a quarter of a billion dollars in annual economic trade with Israeli entities, in addition to business done with many other partners who likewise have commercial interests in Israel. This trade encompasses many of Florida’s most important economic sectors, such as defense, technology research and development, and health sciences. In light of increasing efforts to target Israel and her international trade partners for commercial discrimination, Florida’s economic interests must be defended against attempts to weaken the state’s ability to conduct trade with Israel.
Boycotts of entities and individuals on the basis of national origin, particularly Israel, often amount to ethnic, religious, racial and/or nationality discrimination, which directly contradicts Florida’s public policy and the values of its people. Exercising discretion with taxpayer funds is an important part of reinforcing public policy and the basic ethical standards of government.
The Senate version of this bill SB 86 passed the full Senate and is currently in messages, waiting to be received by the House of Representatives. The House version of the bill, HB 587 was considered by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, and passed unanimously 26-0. One concern that surfaced in discussion of this bill this week in the House, was the concern that the bill was restricting and therefore violating the free speech of companies and individuals. However, the bill does not violate any First Amendment rights, it exercises the state’s freedom to choose the companies in which it will invest and with whom it will contract and who it will not, as companies in the private sector are able to do. If a company desires to boycott Israel, they can, but they must understand it will preclude them from contracting with the state or receiving state investments. They are free to choose.
The House bill has one final committee before it will be voted on by the full House. Because the Senate has already passed the bill, if the House passes the exact same bill language, the bill could then go straight to Governor Scott to be signed.
SB 784/HB 545: Relating to Human Trafficking by Sen. Flores (R-Miami); Rep. Spano (R-Riverview)
Florida has a strong record in bipartisan support for Human Trafficking legislation, and Senator Flores and Representative Spano have been long-champions of legislation fighting to protect Florida’s vulnerable citizens and victims of human trafficking.
This particular bill increases penalties for individuals convicted of human trafficking and provides for the suspension of a massage therapist’s or massage establishment’s license if convicted of certain prostitution offenses. The bill also protects minors, who may be victims of human trafficking, from being convicted for prostitution. SB 784 by Sen. Flores was heard by its first committee, Criminal Justice, on Monday and was passed as amended 5-0. The Senate bill has two more committees before it will be considered by the full Senate. Its House companion, HB 545 by Rep. Spano, passed its final committee last week, and is now on the 2nd Reading Calendar ready to be discussed by the full House.