TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The 2021 Florida Legislative Session created more challenges than solutions. Governor DeSantis and legislative leaders prioritized making it harder for the people to have their voices heard, both during their legislative work and for years to come. Initiatives passed by the Legislature include those that criminalize peaceful protest, usurp local control, embolden vigilante violence, make it harder to cast your ballot in future elections, make it harder for people to propose amendments to the state constitution, and eliminate the ability for transgender women and girls to participate in sports that match their gender identity. The House also passed a measure to limit access to abortion care that was not considered in a Senate committee.
It was also one of the least transparent sessions in recent history. Although helping Floridians handle the worldwide pandemic was not a top priority, legislators were quick to use COVID-19 as a shield from public oversight. In the days when even Kindergarten went virtual, legislators forced people to travel to Tallahassee, risking their health for a chance to testify about the effects of these unpopular bills. Even when people did this, they were often only allowed one minute to speak, they were not allowed in the capitol to meet with legislators without having a prior appointment, and the legislature operated largely behind closed doors. Legislative leaders simply did not want to hear from everyday Floridians.
In short, the Florida Legislature passed dozens of undemocratic laws that will chip away at the collective rights of all Floridians.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, stated the following in response to the end of the 2021 session:
“Following one of the most challenging years in recent history, the Florida Legislature had ample opportunity to pass initiatives that would make the lives of Florida residents better. Our elected leaders had the duty to respond to the immediate needs of people who were, and continue to be, impacted by the social, physical, and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a resounding need to focus on recovery from COVID-19 by addressing mass unemployment, the housing crisis, and community health disparities, and the Legislature barely attempted to address any of it.
“Instead of passing—or even holding committee hearings on—the myriad of bills related to police accountability that were introduced this session, legislators responded to the Black Lives Matter movement in Florida with a bill that criminalizes protesters and chills free speech. Before the session even ended, the Governor signed into law HB1, which has a chilling effect on the fundamental right to peacefully protest and assemble. They passed SB90, which will make it harder for Floridians to vote by mail and create unnecessary administrative hurdles to access the ballot box. They passed SB1890, another attempt to make the citizen initiative process—one of the only ways Floridians have to effect statewide change in our state—more difficult. They also made a last minute maneuver to resurrect and pass a cruel and discriminatory provision that bans transgender girls from playing sports, despite the proven benefits of athletics on their health and social development. These incessant attacks to Floridians’ civil rights and liberties are simply shameful.
“The Legislature has tried its best to undermine the power of Floridians. Despite all efforts to thwart our voices, the power in our communities to change the political and social landscape of Florida will prevail. The vision to make Florida a place where everyone can thrive will endure. The work to make the way for a better Florida will continue.”