TALLAHASSEE, FL – The 2019 Florida Legislative Session was the most harmful and devastating session for Floridians’ civil rights and civil liberties in a decade. Legislators adopted and passed anti-civil liberties bills that will tear families apart and codify racial profiling into law, bar hundreds of thousands of Floridians from voting, exacerbate the school to prison pipeline, and divert taxpayer dollars from public school education to fund private religious schools, while making only the most modest of reforms to our broken criminal justice system.
The American Civil Liberties Union 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 and instead, they turned back the clock on justice and civil liberties in ways that will have harmful impacts on all Floridians.
Micah Kubic, executive director, ACLU of Florida, stated the following on Senate Bill 7066 and House Bill 5, which passed:
“The legislative session produced many threats to the civil rights and liberties of all Floridians. Presented with the opportunity to move the state forward on issues of freedom and justice, the Florida Legislature instead chose to try to go back in time: to a time before voters had given their overwhelming approval of guaranteeing access to the ballot box through Amendment 4, to a time before people had a right not to be wrongly and arbitrarily detained by law enforcement, and to a time before racial profiling was so blatantly unconstitutional.
“The Florida Legislature may want to go back in time with their unconstitutional, and wrong-headed attacks on the values we share as Americans, but the people of Florida refuse to do so. Floridians have said loud and clear that they expect their elected officials to move us forward by protecting voting rights, making the state a safe and welcoming place for everyone, and building a criminal justice system that actually works. It is shameful that the Legislature not only refused to hear that message, it actively opposed and undermined it.
“By passing legislation that undermines Amendment 4, legislators have blatantly ignored the will of 5.1 million Florida voters by restricting the eligibility to vote for thousands of Floridians who have earned their second chance. Instead of allowing Amendment 4 to take effect, they chose to thwart access to the ballot box and a historic citizens’ initiative that re-enfranchised 1.4 million people. The legislature created more significant roadblocks than were in place when returning citizens had to go through the near-futile clemency process to get their rights restored. This bill will undoubtedly impact the most vulnerable communities in Florida and has created a barrier to voting that is unconstitutional - restricting the right to vote based upon who can afford to pay for it is a blatant attack on our rights.
“Legislators also passed a bill with an amendment that imposes barriers to the ability of Floridians to petition and directly amend our state’s constitution when our state government fails to act. It complicates the citizens initiative process, which was most recently used by Floridians to amend our state constitution by collecting nearly one million signed petitions and placing Amendment 4 on the November ballot. State lawmakers are not only attempting to undermine Amendment 4, but they are also trying to undermine the entire citizen initiative process that led to its passing.
“Floridians deserve to be heard and to have their rights protected, and this legislative session was a full frontal attack on civil liberties and did a disservice to our state’s values.”
Kirk Bailey, political director, ACLU of Florida, stated the following on Senate Bill 642 and Senate Bill 168, which passed:
“A majority of Floridians want to see comprehensive criminal justice reform, but legislators fell short of that expectation. While some reforms were enacted, legislators left a more comprehensive bill on the floor that would have started to undo decades of over-incarceration and excessive sentencing in our criminal justice system. We still have a lot of work left to do before our state has a fair and equitable criminal justice system. We should have taken a real first step at reform by allowing judicial review for all direct file cases, eliminating driver’s license suspension for the inability to pay fines and fees, including racial impact statements on all criminal justice reform bills, adjusting the cap on gain time, and by enacting policies that actually reduce our state’s swelling prison population. We had a real opportunity to see real reform that would reduce mass incarceration and help make our communities safer, but unfortunately, legislators chose to take a baby step toward reform.
“Legislators also chose to undermine the right to due process and equal treatment for Floridians by passing SB 168, which forces state government employees to comply with ICE and forces local law enforcement to act as ICE agents. Local governments should decide how local resources are spent and local law enforcement should spend their time serving local communities—not enforcing federal immigration law. This bill will create a statewide environment of fear and encourage racial profiling of immigrants and people of color and is guaranteed to separate immigrant families. U.S. citizens will be caught in the crossfire because of ICE’s overzealous and unreliable detainer system that places undue burdens on local law enforcement agencies. It is a harmful bill that will increase the likelihood of racial profiling, divert maximum local law enforcement resources from safeguarding our communities and create irreparable damage to thousands of immigrant families.”
Kara Gross, legislative director, ACLU of Florida, stated the following on Senate Bill 7030 and Senate Bill 7070, which passed:
“In spite of evidence that guns in schools will result in more violence, not less, and will disparately impact Black and brown youth, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ and gender nonconforming youth, the Florida legislature passed a bill that will arm teachers in our schools. It also expands on Florida’s harsh zero-tolerance law discipline policies, which will result in more students being pushed out of schools and into the unforgiving criminal justice system, which will harm students more than it helps.
“Legislators also passed a bill that will funnel public taxpayer dollars to private religious schools, blurring the separation between church and state, and taking away resources from our public schools. These bills will have devastating consequences for Florida’s youth and we urge our Governor to veto these harmful bills.”