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Anything but the Greatest Show: Florida politics & pre-2022 legislative session

On the week of Sept. 20, Florida legislators came to Tallahassee for the first of six pre-legislative session committee weeks before the 2022 legislative session. These weeks are mostly political theater with outcomes choreographed by leadership well in advance of the calls to order in each committee room.

That’s bad, but what they project for Florida is worse.

But first, the only good news from the first committee week performance: A pair of SPLC Action Fund priority bills that divert youth from the criminal justice system and allow for expunction of their records were filed in both chambers as HB 195, HB 197, SB 342 and SB 344, respectively. These bills passed unanimously out of both chambers last session before being vetoed by the governor due to alleged public safety concerns. The bills have been amended, and we can hopefully help usher into law this sound policy reform that will divert almost 27,000 children each year from the system and ultimately reduce adult incarceration.

Now, for the bad news.

For starters, there’s the filing of an anti-inclusive history bill to ban “divisive concepts” in all public schools, both government-run and charter, all 12 public Florida universities, all 28 state colleges, all state agencies, all county and municipal governments, and all private government contractors.

The American Historical Association and dozens of other expert groups were not impressed, noting in a statement: “The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States. Purportedly, any examination of racism in this country’s classrooms might cause some students ‘discomfort’ because it is an uncomfortable and complicated subject. But the ideal of informed citizenship necessitates an educated public.”

The final act of the first committee week culminated with a presentation by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) wherein a staffing crisis of epic proportions was attributed to budgetary shortfalls and low wages. Did the FDOC call for the humane and fiscally sound policy of early release for aging persons or other sentencing reforms such as those proposed by our SPLC Action colleague, Delvin Davis, in the report, Long Road to Nowhere?

Of course not.

Calls for more money and more guards remain at the heart of FDOC’s pitiless path – much as they have for decades.

Encore: Don’t forget to watch the script unfold for one Republican legislator who quite literally has been banished to an office in the Capitol basement for failing to get in lockstep with leadership. He’s tweeting and ranting on YouTube if you need even more assurance that this member’s sponsored bills will die in committees, including a proposed transgender youth health care ban. (We will be closely monitoring to see if another member picks up this harmful bill as a prime co-sponsor.)

Your Florida tax dollars at work, y’all. Welcome to the show.

Carrie Boyd is policy director for the SPLC Action Fund in Florida.

Photo above: The Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee (Credit: iStock)