Florida legislative divide: Bills spark debates about racism, sexual identity

Legislative session marred by controversy ends Friday

The Florida legislative divide continued on Wednesday in Tallahassee, as Democratic lawmakers challenged Republicans who have the votes to pass controversial laws that Gov. Ron DeSantis is likely to sign as he campaigns for reelection.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida legislative divide continued in Tallahassee as Democratic lawmakers challenged Republicans — who have the votes to pass the laws that Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to sign.

Sen. Shevrin D. “Shev” Jones, D-Miami Gardens, and Florida Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said Wednesday the divisions are all part of Republicans’ effort to use the legislative process to help DeSantis advance his political career.

“I have noticed a pattern in this legislature where they will create a bogeyman and it riles up a base, riles up people in a political sense, but it doesn’t do anything to help people with their everyday lives,” Driskell said.

The 60-day session ends Friday after heated debates about the 15-week abortion ban; a Parental Rights in Education bill that is now known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill; the voting law package that includes the introduction of the so-called election police; and the federal government’s placement of unaccompanied migrant children in Florida.

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said Democrats are to blame for the ongoing heated debates and controversy and not Republicans.

“One of the themes of this session is Democrats will literally make up fictitious bills that none of us would support and then claim that they are against them,” Fine said adding, “We are not doing any of these things to give the governor talking points. We’re doing these things because we share his views on the seriousness of the problems.”

Accusations of racism in education were also on the floor Wednesday. During a debate, Sen. Randolph Bracy III asked Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr.: “Are you trying to whitewash Black history?”

The Florida legislative divide continued on Wednesday in Tallahassee, as Democratic lawmakers challenged Republicans who have the votes to pass controversial laws that Gov. Ron DeSantis is likely to sign as he campaigns for reelection.

Bracy, D-Orlando, introduced a bill proposal that would require high school students enrolled in a U.S. history course to receive specified instruction on the significance of Emancipation Day and Juneteenth Day.

Diaz, R-Hialeah Gardens, introduced another bill proposal that would make it hard to teach history that causes students’ “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.”

Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, expressed her outrage about the opposition to racial sensitivity training in the workplace during the debate: “Someone who is uncomfortable in a training session can sue. It is insane!”

Last year, the Florida Board of Education banned critical race theory in public school classrooms. Civil-rights scholars from around the nation have been discussing the theory about the intersection of race and law for about four decades. Amid the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement, the topic was high on the Republican agenda last year.

In December, DeSantis announced a legislative proposal to stop “W.O.K.E. Activism” and critical race theory in schools and corporations. He said WOKE stands for “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.” DeSantis also made it clear he stood against lockdowns as a public health measure during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House passed a bill that will allow some businesses to file lawsuits against local governments for ordinances that cause a 15% or more loss in profit.

The House also passed a bill prohibiting state government agencies from doing business with transportation companies the federal government is contracting to transport undocumented immigrants to Florida.

Amid a lack of bipartisan cooperation, House and Senate budget leaders haven’t been able to reach an agreement on the state’s more than $100 million budget. The legislative process will likely require a special session.

Related report

Republican State Senator Ileana Garcia is drawing criticism for remarks she made on the floor, regarding the LGBT community, gender and sexual identity.

Torres contributed to this report from Miami.


About the Authors:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.