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Abortion, school safety & 'Don't Say Gay' bills advance during consequential week in Tallahassee

'Republicans are so extreme on this,' Rep. Anna Eskamani says
Posted at 4:32 PM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 16:32:55-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It was a very busy week at the state Capitol, which started on a somber note.

Lawmakers reflected Monday on the lives lost during the Parkland school shooting, four years ago and their ongoing efforts to improve school safety.

Later in the week, a House panel cleared HB 1421 from its final committee.

Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, D-Parkland, a former Parkland mayor turned state politician, helped sponsor the bill.

"The goal is to just increase those layers of security," she said. "Also to bring some of the real-world experience into the legislation."

Rep. Christine Hunschofsky
Rep. Christine Hunschofsky helped sponsor the school security bill.

Versions in both upper and lower chambers contain numerous provisions, including the following:

  • Require schools to create family reunification plans
  • Better training for school law enforcement
  • An extension of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission until July 2026
  • Measures to ensure districts comply with safety standards 

"There is always room in anything we do for continuous improvement," Hunschofsky said. "I feel it's the same way for school safety and school security."

Leadership has scheduled the bill for a House floor vote next week.

It comes after a long night in the lower chamber on Wednesday. Lawmakers debated a new abortion restriction for more than five hours.

HB 5 prohibits the procedure after 15 instead of 24 weeks with exceptions for fatal conditions.

"We're one of only seven countries that still allow elective abortions after 20 weeks," said Rep. David Borrero, R-Miami, on the floor.

Rep. David Borrero
Rep. David Borrero speaks about his support for the abortion bill in Florida.

Protesters interrupted the final moments of discussion. Several were forcibly removed from the chamber.

Republicans won a victory for pro-lifers, calling the bill humane protection of unborn children.

"The message is that we support children. We support mothers. We support families," said Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Clearwater.

Democrats failed to garner the votes needed to stop the legislation or add exceptions for rape or incest. Members considered the bill dangerous and were worried that women, especially those with lower income, would suffer.

"Republicans are so extreme on this," said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. "You saw them not only oppose the amendments but defend their opposition."

The Senate gets the bill next. It faces a final committee on Monday before members take a final floor vote.

Rep. Joe Harding
Rep. Joe Harding is among the Republican supporters for the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

More emotions during the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill's final House panel flared on Thursday as the LGBTQ community urged lawmakers to kill the policy, calling it little more than "hate."

The latest version eliminates "discussion" — now banning "instruction" of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Parents are allowed to sue schools that don’t comply.

"Those ages, the focus should be on reading and math and the basics that come with being in kindergarten through third grade," said Rep. Joe Harding, R-Ocala.

A party-line vote advanced the bill to the House floor. It'll get a final vote in the lower chamber next week, with lawmakers set to consider amendments on Tuesday.