TALLAHASSEE, FL – This year, Gov. DeSantis and his allies in the legislature prioritized anti-civil liberties bills that will have a devastating impact on all Floridians’ civil rights and civil liberties.
These policies include those that censor constitutionally protected speech about race and gender discrimination in classrooms and workplaces; prohibit conversations related to LGBTQ+ topics in schools, including gender and sexual orientation; prevent private businesses and organizations that contract with the state from providing transportation to a large swath of Florida’s foreign-born population and visitors and increase racial profiling; create an unnecessary elections police force resulting in increased voter intimidation at the ballot box and enhanced criminal penalties for voters who may be unaware of the new stringent requirements; and ban abortions after 15 weeks, impeding Floridians’ access to health care and violating Floridians’ right to determine for themselves when and whether to have a child.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, along with advocacy and civil rights organizations, faith leaders, businesses, students, and local and state leaders called on the legislature to protect Floridians’ civil rights; instead, they turned back the clock on justice and civil liberties in frightening ways that will have lasting and devastating impacts on all Floridians.
Amy Turkel, interim executive director of the ACLU of Florida, stated the following in response to the 2022 legislative session:
“Gov. DeSantis and his allies in the legislature are waging an unprecedented assault on our democracy. Presented with the opportunity to move the state forward on pro-democracy issues and respond to our essential needs of employment, housing, and healthcare, the Florida Legislature instead prioritized bills that attack Floridians’ First Amendment rights, our ability to teach and receive an accurate education, the right to bodily autonomy, and the safety and well-being of our children.
“All Floridians should be outraged by the legislature’s abandonment of one of our most cherished freedoms – the First Amendment. The many dangerous government censorship bills that were passed this year will impact all Floridians, including private business owners and employees, universities and professors, public schools and teachers, and students at every grade level. These include HB 1557, a bill that will censor discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms, effectively barring students from talking about themselves or their LGBTQ+ families, friends or icons, and HB 7, a bill that would censor classroom and private workplace discussions on topics dealing with systemic racism and gender discrimination.
“Every Floridian should be alarmed by this push to silence critics and shut down speech that Gov. DeSantis and his allies do not like. The First Amendment is a guaranteed right to all Floridians. Dissent is and has always been patriotic; government censorship is undemocratic and unconstitutional.
“The legislature also passed a dangerous bill that prohibits access to abortion care for pregnancies past 15 weeks and criminalizes doctors who offer such abortion care. The government should never be able to force anyone to carry a pregnancy against their will, yet HB 5 will do exactly that. The strong majority of Floridians support access to abortion care. To be clear: Floridians, not politicians, should determine for ourselves whether and when to have a child. This intrusion on Floridians’ bodily autonomy and right to make medical decisions for themselves is unconstitutional. Every Floridian should be able to make our own personal, private health care decisions without politicians deciding for us.
“Expanding on past discriminatory anti-immigrant policies, the legislature bowed to Gov. DeSantis’ wishes and passed another cruel bill that harms immigrant children and families and will increase racial profiling of individuals traveling to Florida. The language of SB 1808 is so confusing and overreaching that it could lead to private businesses and organizations that contract with the state refusing to provide critical transportation to a large swath of Florida’s foreign born population and visitors, including asylum seekers and children, and preventing them from reuniting with their families in Florida. Not only will this bill increase racial profiling and undermine Floridians’ rights to travel, it is a drain on the economy and creates inappropriate and unnecessary restrictions and requirements on private businesses. This bill had widespread opposition from faith leaders, civil and human rights organizations, immigrants, and even some law enforcement due to the impact it will have on immigrant children and families. Despite this opposition, the legislature passed SB 1808 to score political points at the expense of vulnerable children.
“Florida legislators also delivered Gov. DeSantis’ anti-voter bill (SB 524) that would create an unnecessary elections police force that can only be described as a dangerous solution in search of a problem. Following the 2020 election, Gov. DeSantis and his allies in the legislature praised the accuracy and efficiency of the election. Yet, they continue to undermine Floridians' access to the ballot box. This bill could unjustly disenfranchise thousands of Florida voters and increase the risk of naturalized voters being deleted from the rolls. The right to vote is fundamental, yet DeSantis and leaders in the legislature continue to limit access to the ballot box.
“Together we all must fight back against these blatant attacks on our constitutional rights and freedoms by politicians like Gov. DeSantis. The Governor and his devotees have prioritized dangerous rhetoric, culture wars, and dismantling the rights of Floridians while ignoring the real needs of our communities, like access to affordable housing, healthcare, quality education, and employment opportunities. Our collective work to make Florida a place where we can all thrive continues unabated. Despite Gov. DeSantis’ best efforts to undermine the rights of Floridians, we know that no politician, including Gov. DeSantis, holds more power than the people.”