TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Controversial comments from a Florida lawmaker, what critics call a crackdown on drag shows, plus a six-week abortion ban became law, even though it may be a while before it takes effect.
It was another consequential week in Tallahassee as the 2023 legislative session continues. Here's a recap of what you might have missed.
'DEMONS AND IMPS'
A Republican lawmaker was in hot water Monday for comments about the transgender community. It came in committee as lawmakers debated a bill on gender rules for Florida bathrooms.
Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deland, started by citing the Marvel "X-Men" movies saying, "I feel like we have mutants living among us on planet Earth…" then later "demons and imps."
"I'm not afraid to address the dysphoria or the dysfunction," Barnaby said. "The lord rebuke you Satan and all of your demons and all of your imps who parade before us. That's right, I called you demons and imps."
Barnaby apologized for the "demons" comment a short time later but his words ignited a storm of criticism from the LGBTQ community. Some lawmakers joined in the condemnation, including the Legislative Black Caucus.
"What we witnessed Monday is textbook transphobia and hate," Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, who heads the group, said. "It is unfortunate that members of the Legislature have thought it wise to resort to such unnecessary and harmful words when debating bills."
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, was asked about the comments Wednesday. He told members of the press corps "...in this case, you can't let emotions get away from you."
"I've encouraged that member, as I have other members in the process, privately, stick to the facts," Renner said. "Stick to your position. Argue it with passion. Don't make it about personalities. Don't make it about people."
ADULT PERFORMANCE BAN CLEARS SENATE
A ban on drag shows or the protection of children? That was the debate on the state Senate floor Tuesday afternoon as protesters chanted outside the chamber.
Republicans approved SB 1438 with a party-line vote. It prohibits someone from knowingly admitting a child to what it calls "adult live performances." They're defined as a presentation that "depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, or specific sexual activities…"
Violation is a first-degree misdemeanor— with up to a year of imprisonment and fines. Hotels, restaurants or bars hosting face fines as well — or loss of licenses. Even those issued a permit for public events are subject to a misdemeanor charge.
GOP members called it an effort to shield children from sexually explicit content.
"As lawmakers, we are failing the children of Florida if we don't step in and say there are venues in at which performances should not let children in if you have certain content," Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, the bill sponsor, said. "I'm confident that, not only in my district but across the state, parents don't want kids to go into these performances."
On the floor, Democrats railed against the bill. Many feared its broad definitions could censor the LGBTQ+ community.
"What is the danger here?" Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, asked. "We haven't seen a single example of improper conduct."
Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, Florida's first openly gay state senator, called the policy a "waste of time." He called SB 1438 GOP "indoctrination" — alleging Republicans were trying to create an issue to appease their voter base.
"Talk to us about things that are going to move the agenda of Floridians," Jones said. "Talk to us about property insurance. Talk to us about what's going to move children to make sure they're proficient in reading."
The bill now heads to the Florida House, likely the final stop before reaching the governor's desk. A vote there could take several weeks as the lower chamber's version still has two more committee stops before reaching the floor.
SIX-WEEK BAN GETS SIGNED
When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last year's 15-week ban, it was a public display, in a large venue, with press coverage. This time, signing the new six-week ban was different.
Many Floridians might have been sleeping when it happened at 10:45 p.m. inside the governor's office. DeSantis was joined by the bill sponsors, House Speaker Renner and multiple anti-abortion activists.
"We are proud to support life and family in the state of Florida," DeSantis said in a statement. "I applaud the Legislature for passing the Heartbeat Protection Act that expands pro-life protections and provides additional resources for young mothers and families."
SB 300 bans most abortions in the state at six weeks, with some exceptions for rape, incest, human trafficking and fatal fetal conditions.
"I mean, it's a historic thing for Florida and for the country," John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, said. "We are moving in the right direction."
But even with a signature, the six-week ban needs one more thing to take effect, the Florida Supreme Court. Justices will consider the current 15-week law, likely later this year. If they find it violates privacy protections in the state constitution, the six-week ban is also gone.
Many consider the bench conservative. DeSantis has made four of the current six appointments— and set for a fifth. Even so, it's unclear what'll happen.
"When it comes to constitutional rulings — sometimes things aren't like they are in terms of how the everyday person thinks that they're so highly politicized, and they don't turn out to be," Dr. Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida politics professor emerita, said. "We don't know."
While we wait, protesters are planning to keep up the pressure. OccupyTally, which spent the week camping across the street from the Capitol, said it would be taking its recent non-violent efforts in Tallahassee statewide.
"I am calling for civil disobedience," Sarah Parker, an organizer from Sarasota, said. "This country was founded on civil disobedience. The Boston Tea Party, the women's suffrage movement, even more so— the civil rights movement."
Florida Democrats, meanwhile, said they're planning political retribution at the ballot box for Republicans and the governor.
"This should be a wake-up call to the people of our state and the people of our nation that we've got a guy who doesn't give a damn about the people of his state," Nikki Fried, Florida Democratic Party chair, said.
The next steps for Florida Supreme Court aren't yet clear.
At the moment, attorneys are still filing briefs with a May 1 deadline. But even with all of that complete, it could take justices months to determine what's right and wrong in this case. The 15-week ban stays in place until then.