The 2013 Florida Legislative Session opened with a sense of promise, rather than dread as in the previous two years.
The November 2012 election was a wake-up call to both political parties to stop the partisanship and work together to tackle the biggest problems facing Floridians. The blame for a botched election, resulting in long lines and voter confusion, was thrust angrily at the Florida Legislature, with demand for reform. Historic voter participation from the Hispanic community helped rally the urgent cry to mend our broken immigration system. Our State’s prison system does little to rehabilitate, and not enough to properly house and care for incarcerated adults and juveniles. And Florida, which ranks second in the nation in executions, ranks first in releasing innocent people from death row due to mistakes.
Each of these issues presented the legislature with the golden opportunity for reform. Members from both sides filed over two dozen bills to help fix Florida’s election woes – ideas ranged from online voter registration to enshrining every citizen’s right to vote – but none of these bills moved.
It initially appeared that the legislature had finally woken up and properly recognized the not-so-new Hispanic constituency, when a myriad of pro-immigrant proposals emerged: in-state tuition for undocumented students, access to drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrant workers, and ending detainer agreements between ICE and local jails. These bills stood in stark contrast to the legislature’s attempts at enact Arizona-style anti-immigrant legislation two years back. Our hopes rose, but soon fell when the legislature again balked at this opportunity.
Likewise, countless common sense and progressive proposals to curb the “school-to-prison pipeline,” reform mandatory minimum sentences, limit solitary confinement for juveniles, and limit juvenile life sentences never made it to a final vote. And when the legislature, for the first time in recent history, took up the all-out abolition of the death penalty, it not only quickly killed the measure; it fast-tracked the misnamed “Timely Justice” Act to speed up executions of death row inmates, increasing the likelihood of executing an innocent person.
Despite these missed opportunities, there were victories for civil liberties and the people they protect. Florida became the first state to enact legislation restricting snooping by local police through the use of drones. The legislature finally took up, debated, and passed out of committee a statewide domestic partner registry proposal; a significant step towards eventual passage. The greatest victory may have been a defeat: on a final vote, the Senate narrowly rejected a discriminatory proposal to ban “Sharia Law” which, among other unintended consequences would have invalidated Jewish and Muslim divorces and many international business contracts, but only in Florida. The ACLU stood tall this session alongside its allies on both sides of the aisle, demonstrating that civil liberties belong to both liberals and conservatives, that defending the rights of all Floridians is the responsibility of all Floridians, and that their defender in Tallahassee is and continues to be the team at the ACLU of Florida.
A full report on the legislative session with a list of bills the ACLU of Florida supported and opposed is available as a downloadable PDF.