Is This Florida’s Blueprint for America?
I’m writing this opinion column while I can.
It’s not clear how long Republican Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur will allow me to offer any opinions on news emerging from his state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, and the state legislature – even as DeSantis is seeking exposure towards becoming the next president of the United States.
Senator Brodeur of Lake Mary, in Seminole County, wants “bloggers” who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and other members of the Florida executive cabinet or legislature to register with the state or face fines.
Brodeur offered no reason for introducing Senate Bill 1316: Information Dissemination, but the title would tend to indicate that there will be more to come for any columnist choosing to challenge policies being promoted by DeSantis or the supportive Republican-majority state legislature.
There’s nothing in the bill itself or on Brodeur’s website that explains why we need this bill for forced registration with the state office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics or on Brodeur’s website. Brodeur, a health consultant with degrees from the University of Florida and Dartmouth College, has been in the legislature since 2010 (the Senate since 2020) with bills on a wide variety of subjects, but, from a glance, this is the only one touching on media.
At the risk of seeming an unseemly challenge to this proposal – there has been no action yet in the Senate, which re-opens its session this week – the idea of a forced registration of those who have an opinion about state government strikes me as a tad of an overreach.
Constitutional questions about free speech come to mind, along with the practical questions of what exactly constitutes a “blog,” as opposed to, say, a post on Twitter or Facebook, or who is going to enforce this or why we need it. The only logical conclusion is that the senator wants to discourage unwanted commentary.
Florida Is Newsworthy
Here’s the thing, senator Brodeur: Governor DeSantis is quite outspoken about free speech. His new book, seemingly timed to help promote an unannounced campaign for the presidency, is entitled, “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.”
You would think that encouraging people to speak out would be a central part of the “Freedom.”
It’s in the name of speaking out that DeSantis has promoted ideas to ignore public health measures, for example, or to push legislation that would decide what books should be on school library shelves or that would dictate what courses and ideas cannot be taught in the state’s schools. DeSantis has strong ideas about telling private businesses as well what they can do as part of diversity training and policies. DeSantis even has opinions he wants us to know about concerning the war in Europe.
Those are ideas that require vigorous conversation, if not debate. That debate of ideas is the point of commentaries, columns, and blogs.
His book is not winning very good reviews so far, with other opinion commentators saying that the language is dull, many of his ideas hard-hearted, and his rage against “woke” America repetitive, relentless and predictable. On the other hand, those are just opinions about his opinions – albeit from columnists paid by various news organizations that curiously are exempted in this bill.
DeSantis has made it a notable habit to discourage or ignore many reporter questions at his public appearances and he has gone out of his way to “ban” NBC News, as an example, for what he said was misstating the point of his school legislation.
It’s not that columnists and bloggers have nothing else to do. The actions emerging from state officials with national aspirations and policies whose influence cross state borders are interesting to those of us seeking subject matter that gets at our collective sense of values.
Let’s be direct: Requiring bloggers or websites that distribute blogs like this one where you are reading this column is a threat. Whether meant that way or not, it comes across as a serious disincentive to public criticism for a public official whose job it is to engage with the public.
It was a quick turn, for example, from DeSantis asking for “information” from state agencies and universities about diversity and inclusion programs to proposed legislation to barring them.
The proposed bill is detailed about the timing of registration requirements, by the 10th day of each month, about fines of $25 a day for writers or websites who are late, and payments of fines. By contrast, it is a little light on who is considered a blogger or why we need the bill altogether.
According to Brodeur’s bill, a “blog” means a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content, who gets paid for work – which in reality may be the cost of dinner once a month. For blog posts that “concern an elected member of the legislature” or “an officer of the executive branch,” monthly reports must disclose the amount of compensation received for the coverage, rounded to the nearest $10 value. But the blogger rule would not apply to newspapers or similar publications.
Are we talking in Florida or across the nation or the world? Why isn’t an opinion in 144 characters considered a “blog” or is it?
Why exactly is it the right of the state legislature in Florida to govern my writing, whether about DeSantis or the real estate industry? How does this square with, say, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
You might as well have a bill that prohibits any critical thinking. Oh, I forgot, that’s exactly the point of legislation about teachings about race and identity. Why stop there?
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