TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — What critics call the "Don't Say Gay" bill is now a floor vote away from the governor. A panel in the Florida Senate advanced it to the full chamber Monday afternoon.
The Appropriations Committee discussed HB 1557 for more than three hours before, finally, taking a vote. Despite one defection, Republicans were able to maintain enough support.
The highly-controversial policy brought dozens to the capital, speaking both for and against.
Some considered the legislation a bigoted attack on the LGBTQ community. Others thought it simply gave parents authority over important conversations.
The division centers on one of HB 1557's central provisions. Under threat of a lawsuit from parents, it prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K to 3rd — or when "not age-appropriate."
"This bill quite frankly hurts my heart," said one educator speaking against the bill. "This bill is absolutely going to put teachers into a position where they can't teach."
Rick Carlins, a fan of the policy, said it protects the innocence of children while in school.
"Family has complete authority over their household and their children," said the Fruitland Park resident. "Sex is for the marriage bed."
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sought a compromise between both sides. He offered an amendment to broaden the bill language to prohibit instruction of "human sexuality."
"Can we find a way to modify the language so that our neighbors in this room don't feel harmed?" Brandes said. "I have to believe the answer to that question is yes."
The GOP majority shut the idea down, however. Some worried it was too vague. Sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, said the change would "significantly gut" the bill's intent.
"Please don't go here thinking that here's a guy who hates everybody," Baxley said. "I don't, I love everybody."
Baxley told committee members he's aiming to give parents more control of a student's education, records and well-being. He also accused news outlets of fomenting resentment against it.
"I didn't call the bill the no gay whatever bill," he said. "This has all been fabricated by the media, my friend. This does one simple thing, it decides who's in charge."
The legislation now has one more chance for amendment when it gets to the Senate floor. Opponents remain hopeful change will happen. Democrats continue to note seven GOP lawmakers defected during the lower chamber's floor vote last week.
Leadership has yet to schedule the final vote. But, if the legislative session ends on time, it will have to come either this week or next.