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Florida Lawmakers Introduce Legislation that Threatens First Amendment

FLORIDA – Throughout President Donald Trump's term in office and during the COVID 19 pandemic, Big Tech and the Mainstream Media targeted free speech under the guise of protecting the country from misinformation and disinformation. Opposing opinions to vaccines, climate change, election fraud, and the January 6th Capitol raid, were met with harsh criticism by progressive commentators, and faced banishment from social media platforms. President Trump still refers to most news outlets as "fake news," for not allowing diverse or opposing opinions in their coverage of major national events and for revoking his social media accounts.

The GOP hails Governor Ron DeSantis as one of the greatest governors in Florida's history, due to his staunch resistance to "woke" progressive ideologies and opposition to federal COVID-19 guidelines. In 2021, DeSantis signed legislation that gives Florida residents the ability to file lawsuits against social media platforms that censor free speech. Republican lawmakers have taken advantage of DeSantis' strong conservative values and introduced legislation that most of their constituents agree with but earlier this week, one Republican Senator introduced a bill that reads like it was taken straight from the pages of the Communist Manifesto.

On February 28th, Senator Jason Brodeur introduced SB 1316, which would force bloggers who publish articles on Florida lawmakers to register with the Office of Legislative Services or Commission on Ethics. Essentially, forcing them to register as lobbyists. The bill reads as follows:

If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.

"blog" means a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and it frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content. The term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.

Any blogger who fails to register and report monthly to the select office will be fined $25.00 per day, up to $2,500. If a blogger fails to comply with the proposed statutory obligation, the case could be referred to the Florida court system.

Many called this move unconstitutional and a direct attack on the First Amendment.

Yesterday, Brodeur published a video on Twitter and attempted to clarify his motives behind the bill. Brodeur says bloggers who are paid to publish articles on behalf of lawmakers are essentially working as lobbyists and believes they should be required to register as such. "What we have out there today is a system by which someone can pay someone to write a story, publish it online and then use that in mail piece as a cite source when they are making claims about an opponent," says Brodeur.

If the bill passes, which many lawmakers say it won't even make it past committee, who becomes the arbiter of determining the difference between a blogger and a journalist? The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals already ruled that bloggers have the same rights as journalists, so, if that is the case, why not force all media outlets to register as lobbyists? Why is one more corruptible than the other? Some argue that newspapers and large media outlets no longer trustworthy sources, due to control by large corporate sponsors and or political parties. Citizens have become more reliant on independently operated news outlets, like R News, because they have no incentive to be disingenuous and a lot more to lose if they are.

There are no known co-sponsors for the bill at this time.

But this isn't the only bill being pushed through Florida lawmakers that appears to regulate free speech. Just before the introduction of the "blogger bill," Brodeur and co-sponsor Senator Keith Perry introduced SB 1220 that would prevent journalists from using an elected officials photograph, video, or audio recording in a defamatory manner. But laws already exist that allows anyone, including elected officials, to file lawsuits against someone who makes libelous statements. Why are journalists being singled out? And what about the arbitration factor? How will they differentiate a journalist from a blogger? The bill also threatens the ability for a journalist to depend on anonymous sources, which can be abused by those with nefarious intentions, but it still throttles the spirt of the First Amendment to prohibit it. Is this really any different than Facebook and other social media platforms censoring conservative voices? They are the same, according to the federal appeals court opinion. Representatives Alex Andrade and Mike Beltran introduced similar companion bills in the House.

These aren't the first bills introduced that have a laudable appearance on the surface but threaten the very core of the First Amendment. After the release of this reporter's documentary that exposed illegal activity between a nonprofit and elected officials, then-Representative Blaise Ingoglia used his influence with Senator Ileana Garcia to introduce two bills that criminalized content contained in my film. Behind the Gate contained numerous witness accounts by former clients and employees of Dawn Center, a local domestic violence shelter, who claim the facility is involved in federal fraud, human trafficking, and other state and federal crimes. The film shows an image of the facility's front gate and mentions the names of volunteers who work at the facility and also happen to be employees at the Hernando County Clerk's Office. SB 68 and 70 made it a criminal offense to reveal the identities of any employee or volunteer of a domestic violence shelter. It also prohibits the disclosure of their locations. Essentially, giving volunteers of a private nonprofit the same exemption status afforded exclusively to law enforcement officers and judges. Ironically, many of the shelters provide their location on public websites to help women locate a shelter. Behind the Gate never reveals the exact location of Dawn Center and the employees and volunteer's identities are public record. They even promote themselves on social media. This action was taken to conceal illegal activity being conducted by nonprofits who receive billions in federal funding from ever being exposed or investigated.

It's unknown how far these proposed bills will make it through the legislative process or if DeSantis supports the measures. R News will continue to follow the progress of these and any legislation that affects the First Amendment.


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