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Lawmakers debated the lengthy pros and cons of the culture-war bill HB 7 during the 2022 legislative session, but not all lawmakers knew that a last-minute change late last week drastically impacted how the measure would work.
Now, HB 7, because of a different bill, would be expanded to allow lawmakers and the state Board of Governors that oversees public universities in Florida to determine if there has been a violation of HB 7 at state universities, potentially risking funding for these institutions and raising questions on transparency in the legislative process.
HB 7 restricts certain conversations about race and gender in schools and workplaces.
HB 7, described as “Individual Freedom,” allows parents to sue if schools subject students to certain principles regarding race and gender. The same goes for employees and workplaces. Sometimes referred to as the “Stop WOKE Act,” it was one of the governor’s signature bills pushed through in the two-month legislative session in 2022.
But on Thursday, GOP lawmakers involved in crafting the state budget added language to a budget bill impacting the enforcement of HB 7 related to state universities.
It said: “Contingent upon HB 7 or similar legislation… if any institution is found to have a substantiated violation… the institution shall be ineligible to receive performance funding during the next fiscal year following the year in which the violation is substantiated.
The budget bill then said that substantiated findings are as determined “by a court of law, a standing committee of the Legislature, or the Board of Governors.”
Democrat lawmakers say HB 7 is now even worse for higher education and raises questions on transparency in Florida’s legislative process.
The 2022 legislative session ended Monday.
“It is a huge problem,” Rep. Evan Jenne told reporters over a Zoom press conference Monday morning. “We have the committees set up so that these bills are properly vetted.”
The language that affects HB 7, should it be approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, was actually added to SB 2524, what’s called a “budget conforming bill” that works to integrate proposals set by the state budget.
Jenne continued Monday: “When you come sneak something in to conforming language, it’s never going to be a good thing, because that idea has not been fully vetted by anyone.”
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who represents areas in Central Florida, said that the addition to SB 2524 “substantially changed HB 7.”
Smith explained further:
“It basically says in the conforming language that the way that the bill is going to be enforced is that claims are going to be brought to either the courts, or the Board of Governors… or a standing committee of the Florida Legislature.
“So basically it took a bill, turned it on its head and basically said ‘oh if you have a complaint, if you believe that a higher education institution, for example, taught history or taught racism in a way that made you feel uncomfortable, in violation of the Stop WOKE Act, you can bring that complaint to a political committee of the Florida Legislature.’ I say political because it is made up of politicians with Republicans in the majority. That committee will be the judge, jury, and executioner on all violations of House Bill 7.”
Smith added: “It may not be a violation of the rules, but it’s certainly in violation of the culture and the expectations that we have for transparency in the legislature.”
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