TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Further restrictions on teaching gender identity and sexual orientation in Florida's public schools are heading to the governor. Republicans in the state Senate pushed the bill through its final stop, Wednesday afternoon. Democrats decried it as "bigoted" censorship.
The bill is among the most contentious of the 2023 legislative session. Republicans, however, had the will and the numbers to get it across the finish line despite waves of protests. Some happened outside the upper chamber and governor's office shortly after the bill's party-line vote.
The policy expands last year's "Parental Rights in Education" law — which critics dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill. What is currently a K-3 teaching ban on gender identity and sexual orientation is now a pre-K through eighth-grade restriction. Parents can also more easily object to teaching materials like library books. Students can't be required to give or use preferred pronouns.
Democrats had serious problems with the legislation. In floor debate, some thought it a waste of time.
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"I can't believe we're here seriously debating pronouns," Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said. "We have so many major problems going on in this state — and if a teacher is asked to call someone 'he' or 'she' because the parents and the child want that is not a problem."
Others considered the bill bigoted and worried it would censor LGBTQ+ people and conversations.
"It's such a small vulnerable population of kids that we're picking on," Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, said. "I have to wonder if a lot of you are afraid of taking on the real bullies in this state."
Republican backers, however, have repeatedly called the policy a protection of children. In fact, that was the Senate version's formal name "Child Protection in Public Schools."
"Raising small children in this climate carries with it a lot of challenges," Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said. "You see society coming at our children in a culture war that has an agenda to make them confused."
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Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, was among other members of the GOP majority who felt the bill would offer a refocusing of the state's education system.
"We need to make sure what's being taught in our classrooms are things that need to be taught in our classrooms," Mayfield said. "Like math, like reading."
GOP leadership also dismissed criticism that the bill was a red-meat goal of the governor, who's likely eyeing a White House run. Sen. President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said lawmakers "pursued passionately" legislation like HB 1069.
"Whatever is happening outside, politically, does it affect it? I don't know," Passidomo said. "I do know that my members care."
Gov. Ron DeSantis gets the bill next and is expected to sign before the effective date, July 1 of this year.