The Florida Senate is poised to pass an education measure that would ban teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in the early years, as protesters flocked to the Capitol to denounce what the critics called it a “don’t say gay” bill.
The Republican-controlled Senate on Monday rejected a series of amendments proposed by the Democrats and positioned the bill (HB 1557) for a vote on Tuesday.
The House voted 69-47 last month to pass the bill, meaning it will go to Governor Ron DeSantis if approved by the Senate without changes.
Proponents of the proposal, which is titled ‘Parental Rights in Education’, have argued that it aims to ensure that the curriculum is age-appropriate for young students and that parents have more control on the education of their children.
The measure would ban classroom teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. For older students, the bill would prohibit such instruction that is “not age or developmentally appropriate,” as determined by state academic standards.
“We don’t want the social engineering of trying to steer kids in one direction, which is very tempting when you’re responsible for their growth and development,” said the Senate bill’s sponsor, Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, at the News Service of Florida. Monday.
Critics of the measure objected to Baxley’s use of the term “social engineering”.
Despite Republicans’ arguments that the legislation has been misinterpreted by opponents, it remains one of the most contentious issues of the 2022 legislative session.
As senators prepared to consider the bill on Monday, about 100 protesters gathered in the halls of the Capitol to fight the bill.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, spoke to the Senate about the protesters and asked fellow senators to “open your hearts.”
“I watched the news and observed these children who are here in these rooms, and they are here to make their voices heard. And it’s commendable to see what they’re doing,” said Jones, who held back tears as he spoke of his experience as the first openly gay senator.
“I believe we all want to do well,” Jones said. “It seems like if politics has it, we’ve gone down a path where we’re afraid to go out and make sure we don’t hurt people.”
But Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said young students aren’t ready for the kind of education the bill proposes to ban.
“The student’s maturity level is not ready to accept the conversation on the topic, as far as instruction goes,” Diaz said.
Other parts of the bill seek to prevent school districts from adopting policies that would prohibit school employees from informing parents about the “mental, emotional or physical health” or well-being of students. Schools would also be prohibited from withholding information about changes to student services.
The bill would make an exception for cases where “a reasonably prudent person believes that the disclosure would result in the abuse, abandonment or neglect” of students.
Parents could sue school districts for violating the bill. The proposal also includes an alternative process for resolving such disputes, which would involve administrative hearings before special magistrates.
Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, criticized the prosecution portion of the bill.
“Why do we constantly use the threat of a lawsuit to try to get the kind of behavior we seek?” said Polski. “What you will get are frivolous lawsuits.”
Senate Republicans rejected nearly a dozen proposed amendments, most of which were proposed by Democrats.
But Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, proposed changing the wording of the bill to prohibit teaching about “human sexuality, including but not limited to programs dealing with sexual activity, sexual orientation, or gender.” ‘gender identity’ from kindergarten to third grade.
“At the end of the day, what he does is Senator Baxley gets the intent he wants without the impact of this bill. Because that applies to all of us equally…that’s what I think we want,” Brandes said.
Baxley opposed the proposed change, saying “we would be going in the wrong direction by changing this bill.”
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, called efforts to amend the bill strategic.
“We all know that the intent is just to amend this bill, so we need to send it back to the House, and we need to debate it again and continue to encourage and continue to allow the misrepresentation of what does this bill. This bill is not intended to harm students. This bill is not about eliminating gay children. This bill aims to strengthen family unity,” Stargel said.
DeSantis, who has repeatedly pushed back against the “don’t say gay” label, appeared to endorse the legislation on Monday.
“We’re going to make sure that parents can send their child to kindergarten without having some of these things injected into their curriculum,” DeSantis said at an event in Plant City.