As the 2017 Legislative Session began, the ACLU of Florida was ready to battle several bills that would have trampled Floridians’ civil rights and liberties. Throughout the session, the ACLU of Florida, its partners, and concerned citizens made their voices heard in fending off unconstitutional proposals. With just a few exceptions, many of the bills which the ACLU of Florida warned posed a threat to Floridians’ rights did not advance in the legislature.
The ACLU of Florida’s summary of priority issues is below.
While dangerous anti-immigrant bills advanced in the Florida House, Floridians have the Senate to thank for stopping bills that would have threatened the rights of immigrants. These unconstitutional bills do nothing to make our state safer and would have served only to exploit and deepen the stigma against Florida’s immigrant communities. The legislation the ACLU fought would have:
- Required local law enforcement to honor warrantless detention requests from the federal government. HB 697/SB 786 would have stretched law enforcement resources in our communities and discouraged immigrants who are crime victims from calling police or reporting crimes.
- Made an individual’s immigration status grounds for enhanced sentencing, meaning a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in a county jail would jump to a five-year stint in Florida’s prison system based solely on a person’s immigration status. (HB 83/SB 120)
Unlike in recent past legislative sessions, bills that would have further restricted a woman’s access to legal health care services saw little progress this year. Harmful legislation would have:
- Instituted a ban on abortions following the 20-week mark. HB 203/SB 348 failed to consider a woman’s individual personal and medical circumstances that may necessitate an abortion after twenty weeks.
- Allowed a woman who had an abortion to sue her doctor for malpractice up to 10 years after her procedure. HB 19/SB 1140 would have more than doubled the four-year statute of limitations in place for bringing malpractice suits for other types of medical care.
- Required the state to to develop materials intended to interfere with a woman’s and distribute them in ob-gyn offices and include them in curricula taught in schools. HB 841 and SB 1006 jeopardized a woman’s health and autonomy by allowing the DOH to develop & distribute informational materials deterring women from a safe procedure.
The ACLU of Florida strongly supported the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which would have protected anyone who lives or works in the Sunshine State from being discriminated against at work, in housing or in public places like restaurants because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While this legislation did not pass, it gained greater support than previously seen in the legislature, with bipartisan support in the Senate among its 15 cosponsors, and in the House with 40 cosponsors. We will continue to push for protection for LGBT Floridians against discrimination in the 2018 Legislative Session.
Additionally, no legislation was filed this session explicitly attacking the rights of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Unfortunately, SB 436, regarding Religious Expression in Public Schools passed in the final hours of floor debate.
This bill is troublesome because it opens the door to teachers, administrators, and other adults in positions of power proselytizing and otherwise favoring their religious beliefs during the school day. Under this bill, any student or school employee not in the majority religion at that school is in danger of being further isolated, marginalized, and silenced due to activities championed by others in the majority. Additionally, this bill could allow teachers and other school personnel to discriminate against LGBTQ students under the guise of religious expression. Religious education of children is the responsibility of parents, not the public schools.
The ACLU has a long history of fighting to protect and defend religious freedom and will continue to do so vigorously, but religious freedom does not mean the right to discriminate against others and treat others less humanely.
Fortunately, school districts across Florida have declined to implement similar measures in the past, as they recognize that these types of measures will almost certainly expose districts and school personnel to potential litigation.