Because of the 152 people who came up to the Senate meeting in Tallahassee from all across the state on Monday, and because of the hundreds who called and emailed on Tuesday, when some legislators tried to resurrect the bad bill in a last minute maneuver, we were able to ultimately stop and kill the single most dangerous proposal in the 2016 legislative session. The so-called Competitive Workforce Act (deceptively named bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, or SOGI, to the Florida Civil Rights Act) would have allowed men and boys complete access to women’s and girls’ showers, locker rooms and bathrooms. It also would have created a weapon to punish Christians who live out their faith in the public square.
Our President, John Stemberger testified against this bill and his brief remarks during the Senate hearing can be heard here starting at 68:21 ends 70:20. Please know that this is a battle we are fighting all across the state, and in various cities including Palm Bay, Tampa, Pensacola and Jacksonville. Thanks to your support this is another solid win, so be encouraged! Special thanks to Barry Webster, River Church in Tampa, Abraham and Marilyn Rivera, and the Christian Family Coalition for bringing opponents of the bill up to the Capitol. We easily out-numbered the opponents of the bill 3 to 1.
HALFWAY POINT! We are now halfway through Florida’s 2016 Legislative Session. It has been a busy week at the Capitol. But first… mark your calendars for these exciting upcoming events:
SAVE THE DATE! The Pastors Awakening Summit and The Awakening 2016 will be in Orlando on March 4th and 5th.
Pastors Awakening Summit (Friday, March 4th) Florida Family Policy Council, Watchmen on the Wall, Liberty Counsel and Vision America cordially invite pastors and their spouses to join us for the Pastors Awakening Summit followed by The Awakening 2016 Conference the next day. The Pastors Summit will be held at Faith Assembly of God Church in Orlando and will include many of the national speakers listed below. Pastors of churches and their spouses (only) will be provided a complimentary lunch on both days, coffee and snacks, and free admission to The Awakening 2016 Conference on Saturday. Registrations are limited and will be accepted on a first call basis. For more information or for a list of speakers, click HERE.
The Awakening 2016 (Saturday, March 5th) will be a unique and inspirational God and Country event bringing people together from all around the state with our shared values. The theme in 2016 is “A New Birth of Liberty.” Join more than 40 national religious and political speakers for an in-depth day of spiritual renewal and patriotism! Speakers include Rifqa Bary, James Robison, Benham Brothers, John Stemberger, Mat Staver, Kamal Saleem, Janet Boynes, Gail McWilliams, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Bob Dees, Ken Blackwell, Deacon Keith Fournier, and many more! The schedule includes breakout sessions covering a wide range of topics. Now is the time to take a stand and restore America’s future! Get your tickets now before they’re gone at LC.org or call 407-875-1776! Admission is $50, but there is an early bird registration of only $35 if you register by THIS Saturday (February 13th)!
Click HERE for a list of other upcoming lectures & special events in your area!
Here’s what’s been happening in the Florida Legislature this week:
SB 120: Florida Competitive Workforce Act by Sen. Abruzzo(R) was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday, the Judiciary Committee began by hearing this bill, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to Florida’s Civil Rights Act. The room was overflowing with people; about 150 supporters from around the state were there to oppose this dangerous piece of legislation threatening religious liberty and the safety of women in Florida.
While Senator Diaz de la Portilla had promised to hear the bill for an hour at the last committee meeting, the bill was debated and discussed for nearly two hours. Ultimately, very little public testimony took place as a long list of names, and whether the individual supported or opposed the legislation, was read for the record. The number of people there to oppose the legislation far outnumbered the people there in support. Because the committee had agreed to vote on the bill that day before the end of the meeting, a vote was taken with less than 10 minutes left in the meeting. The vote was 5 to 5, a tie vote, which means the legislation failed and the bill is dead. Immediately thereafter as our group was walking out of the room, a slick technical maneuver took place in which a motion to reconsider the bill was brought up and was followed by a motion to temporarily postpone it. This kept the bill alive in a sense and gave the committee the option to reconsider/vote again on the bill at its next meeting, which was actually scheduled for the following day.
After the committee adjourned for the day on Monday, Committee Chairman Senator Diaz de la Portilla, promised to bring the bill up for consideration – even though the committee already had over 20 bills on the agenda for Tuesday! This seemed like a move to strong-arm one of the Senators who voted “no” to switch their vote. We issued an Action Alert to help ensure that this did not happen. We know that many of you acted upon the Action Alert by calling and emailing the Senators, and we truly appreciate your efforts. In the meantime, our team walked the halls and spoke with Senate staff to thank them for their “no” votes and encourage them to stand strong. The meeting on Tuesday started at 4 pm and while bills on the agenda were discussed, various members of the Judiciary Committee were moving around and efforts were underway to pressure Senators to capitulate. In fact, one senator was visibly saying “my vote is no” as the bill sponsor, who was agitated, walked away. The Judiciary Committee chairman recognized Senator David Simmons who requested that the motion to reconsider be debated. Senator Abruzzo, the bill sponsor, realized that he did not have the votes for the bill to be reconsidered and expressed his disappointment. The final vote was once again 5-5 as no one changed their votes from the previous day. The bill is dead for the year. This is a huge victory!
After the committee meeting, FFA staff had a chance to personally thank Sen. Jeff Brandes (pictured) for standing strong against SB 120.
Thank you for your prayers, the calls you made, and the emails you sent to Senate Judiciary Committee members this week! This could not have happened without your help.
Senator Jeff Brandes and Senator Wilton Simpson are to be commended for being strong and doing the right thing. We were very disappointed in Republican Senators, Senator Diaz de la Portilla and Senator David Simmons, and all the Democrat Senators, who worked against us supporting and voting for this bad bill. See the final vote count here:
We ask that you once again reach out to each of these committee members to thank them again for doing the right thing in the face of immense pressure.
Senator Jeff Brandes (R) (850) 487-5022 – [email protected]
Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R) (850) 487-5030 [email protected]
Senator Wilton Simpson (R) (850) 487-5018 – [email protected]
Senator Aaron Bean (R) (850) 487-5004 – [email protected]
Senator Kelli Stargel (R) (850) 487-5015 – [email protected]
SB 110: Pastors Protection Act by Sen. Bean (R) was heard by the Senate Community Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
Discussion was heated as senators, lobbyists, and private citizens shared their views on the bill’s usefulness and scope. Some worried that after Obergefell v. Hodges (the US Supreme Court’s imposition of same-sex marriage on all 50 states) that pastors could now be targeted for not performing same-sex weddings. Others worried that religious people would treat LGBT people unfairly because of their beliefs and emphasized that the bill addressed a non-existent problem. And still others, including Sen. Brandes worried that this bill was too narrow and did not protect individuals in Florida that really need such protections. He once again drove home the point that religious liberty should apply to all, not just to pastors.
As in the House committee last week, this Senate committee spent a lot of time considering the idea of what is and is not a public accommodation. The question became whether church property is always a private entity exempt from non-discrimination laws or if churches who rent out their property or hold community events would become public accommodations and subject to discrimination ordinances.
This was the second hearing the Senate bill received; the bill passed Community Affairs 6-1. It has one more committee stop, the Rules Committee, before being considered by the full Senate. The House version of the bill (HB 43 by Rep. Plakon) passed through its final committee last week and is ready to be heard by the full House.
HB1411: Termination of Pregnancies by Rep. Burton (R) was heard by the House Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday.
This bill which has a number of key components, including: Raising the standard of care for women having abortions; prohibiting government contracts with organizations affiliated with abortion clinics (defunding Planned Parenthood); and illegalizing the sale, purchase, transport, etc. of fetal tissue making it unlawful to do anything with fetal tissue other than destroy it. The Health and Human Services Committee was the last stop in the House for this bill and it was the quietest of the committee hearings on the bill.
Rep. Jason Brodeur (R), who chairs the committee, had promised critics in the last committee meeting that he would not tolerate unfounded accusations or claims. Pro-abortion activists seemed to mostly take his word for it as the majority of those in attendance simply waived in support or opposition to the bill. There were a few groups, like Equality Florida and the Florida chapter of the National Organization of Women who spoke, but committee members did not engage with the detractors of the bill. One woman spoke in support of the bill and offered a powerful testimony of why this bill was necessary – namely to ensure proper medical care for women who have had an abortion. After having a botched abortion, she had one child before finding out that the abortion had done permanent damage and that child was a miracle.
The bill was amended during the committee hearing to ensure that the medical requirements were equivalent to those of other medical procedures of a similar level. The proceedings went fairly quickly and the bill was passed in an 11-2 vote. It heads to the House floor next, for passage by the entire House of Representatives.
SB 1116: Long-Acting Reversible Contraception Pilot Program by Sen. Joyner (D) was heard in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health & Human Services on Thursday and passed favorably with little discussion, and no dissent by committee members.
The bill creates a state-funded program which would pay for long-acting reversible contraception, such as IUDs, for low-income women in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Palm Beach counties. The danger of this bill is that it would pay a third party provider (like Planned Parenthood) to actually run the program. You could almost rename the bill “Expand Planned Parenthood Funding.”
In Thursday’s hearing, the subcommittee adopted an amendment to the bill which removed language designating it a pilot program and making it a permanent program as long as funded in the budget.
FFA opposed the bill and the amendment in committee. FFA & the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops were the sole voices of opposition to the bill. Some Republicans, such as Sen. Grimsley (R) went as far as to thank Sen. Joyner for this “great” bill, saying “if we don’t pay for it [contraception] on the front end, we will have to pay for it [social services, etc.] on the back-end.” Chairman Garcia (R) also congratulated Sen. Joyner on the bill.
BUDGET & PLANNED PARENTHOOD FUNDING
The Florida House passed their proposed $80 billion state budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year Thursday morning 85-29 on a largely party-line vote. The bill was heavily debated for 2 days, the majority of the discussion centering on the prohibition of funds to Planned Parenthood, before being passed. Rep. Baxley said not all members will agree on each piece of the budget and that it’s difficult for 20 million people to agree on the priorities of the state, but, that by passing the bill and allowing it to go to conference the House was on its way to such an agreement.
Of note, the current proposed 2016-17 House budget increases funding to crisis pregnancy centers from $2 million in 2015-16 to $7 million in 2016-17! That’s a 350% increase!
In addition to proposed increased funding for these critically important crisis pregnancy centers, the House budget also includes a policy statement prohibiting state appropriation funds for the Department of Health (DOH) and Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) from being awarded to Planned Parenthood for services—whether directly or indirectly.
Democratic Leader Rep. Pafford (D) stated that adding policy statements [such as the prohibition of funds to Planned Parenthood] within a “numbers document” was highly inappropriate. He offered an amendment to remove the language from the House budget. However, his amendment was met with a firm NO by House Republicans. The amendment failed 36-72. Rep. Rader (D) suggested that adding this language into the budget was an unprecedented move, and that he believed Florida was violating federal Medicaid law by including this prohibition.
Contrary to the false statements circulating that Florida has no legal authority to exclude Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid contracts, and that each state that has attempted to do so has been denied, we would like to provide you with a few facts:
- Eight states (NH, TX, LA, UT, AL, AR, KS, AZ, and even just Wisconsin yesterday!) have governors and or legislatures who have currently defunded Planned Parenthood.
- The Ohio legislature just passed a law to defund Planned Parenthood and Gov. Kasich has vowed that he will sign it into law
- KY and NY are about to debate defunding Planned Parenthood
In contrast to the House, the Senate proposed budget does not currently include the prohibition against Planned Parenthood, but does include increased funding to crisis pregnancy centers. A recent Tampa Bay Times article quoted Senate President Andy Gardiner as saying, “We have a little different tactic. We don’t specifically reference Planned Parenthood, but what we do is look at crisis pregnancy centers…We say, ‘Let’s fund programs that do everything but abortions.’” You can read the rest of the article HERE.
Late in the day, Thursday, the Senate passed its proposed budget for 2016-17 unanimously, its budget totaling $81 billion. Several Senators warned they would remove their support of the budget bill if the House budget language prohibiting funding for Planned Parenthood remained, including Sen. Clemens, and Sen. Soto who called the House debate “ideological warfare.” The House & Senate will now form a joint conference committee to work out differences between their proposed budgets (the most glaring being a gap of $1 billion). When reconciled, they will vote in their respective chambers on the final budget bill before sending it to Governor Scott for signature or veto. Governor Scott has immediate authority to defund Planned Parenthood, and can do this with one signature, but has refused and made several excuses, none of which are valid. We will continue our campaign urging him to do this for as long as it takes. Click HERE or on the image, NO EXCUSES, to learn more.
Major gambling bills were discussed for the first time this Session on Tuesday in both the House & the Senate. Late last week, the House Regulatory Affairs Committee filed 3 gambling bills—one relating directly to the proposed Seminole Gaming Compact (RAC1), another relating to decoupling live races from pari-mutuels (RAC2), and the third was a proposed constitutional amendment that would require all future Florida gambling expansion to be approved by voters (RAC3). The House Regulatory Affairs Committee was packed to standing room only for hours and there was no lack of opinions on all sides of the issues.
On the Compact bill, Rep. John Wood (R) stated “I’m convinced Florida doesn’t need gaming” and proposed an amendment to committee bill RAC 1 (Seminole Compact) to require the Compact to be approved statewide by voters. The amendment failed and was called “unfriendly” by the Committee Chairman Jose Diaz (R) because it would “slow down” the provisions of the Compact and require “renegotiations” with the Seminole Tribe. (Source: Florida Channel http://thefloridachannel.org/videos/program-201622/) All three gambling bills passed the House committee Tuesday, and are waiting to be given official bill numbers. We will provide an update as to their committee assignments and status as soon as this occurs.
The temptation of $3 billion in revenue from the Seminole Tribe in exchange for expanded gaming in Florida and exclusivity on certain games for the Tribe, has been hard for state leaders to ignore. Gov. Scott has been actively urging the Compact’s adoption, and already has designs on some of the funds to supply his promised business tax cuts. As in past years, it seems that there is an immense rush to pass through sweeping gaming legislation through the Legislature, without a deep look into the implications of such legislation on our communities.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee also filed 2 gambling bills last week, SB 7072 and SB 7074 related to the Gaming Compact and pari-mutuel facilities. Both bills were to be discussed Tuesday in the committee, but were temporarily postponed by the Chairman Bradley (R) because substantial amendments to the bills were offered by President-Designate Joe Negron (R). The committee plans to hear these bills at its next meeting on Wednesday, Feb 17.
HB 669: School Choice by Rep. Sprowls (R) passed its final House committee, Education, this week 13-5 and will soon be sent to the House Floor for discussion. This bill would, among other things, include educational opportunities for Florida’s students by allowing students to attend any public school anywhere in the state, provided they are not at capacity. FFA supported this bill Tuesday in committee.
The bill was strengthened during the committee with additional parental rights language via an amendment by Rep. Adkins (R) that would require public schools to provide a syllabus of each course’s material to parents so that they are aware of what their child is being required to learn and are able to object if they find the information inappropriate. Several representatives, including the committee Chairman O’Toole (R) cited recent examples of course materials being required of Florida’s public school students at the local level, that contained pornographic, inappropriate or sexually explicit materials, which had no learning value for the students. Though some representatives felt the language of the amendment was a bit broad, because it included all courses, rather than just the courses that contained mature or adult content, the amendment was adopted without objection.
Some concerns remained on the bill, however, Rep. Fullwood (D) asked for more clarity regarding portability of funding. He gave the example that if a county is paying an extra ½ cent sales tax to improve the technology in their schools, that someone crossing school district lines would be getting the benefit of that, without paying for it, placing the burden on that county. Rep. Bileca in response, said this concern was unfounded, as the money would follow the student.
Rep. Sprowls (R) emphasized in closing that the true reason for this bill was about providing local control and planning, and most importantly about giving our kids a world class education.
SB 784: Human Trafficking by Sen. Flores (R) was heard by its final Senate committee, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice on Thursday. The bill passed unanimously, enjoying bipartisan support. The bill has one more committee, Fiscal Policy. The identical House bill has passed through all of its committees and is waiting to be discussed by the full chamber.
This particular human trafficking legislation, increases the trafficking of any person (not just kids under 18) to be a first degree felony; even if the victim is an unauthorized alien; including if they were transported from outside to within the state; adds noncommercial sexual offense against mentally disabled victims and child victims under 18 as a life felony—not just commercial crimes; healthcare practitioners and massage establishments in violation commit 3rd degree felony. Includes faith-based providers in optional education programs judges can assign offenders to attend regarding sexual violence and prostitution. FFA was proud to support Sen. Flores‘ bill in committee Thursday.
FINALLY, it takes quite a bit of funding to operate a full-time presence in the state capitol and work to produce these results and reports. If you are able to help us with a gift to support this work we would be grateful. You can click HERE to give online now. Thank you for your prayers and support. Please help to spread the word by forwarding this report to your friends and family with one of our tools above and below this email.