Joe Harding has resigned but the effects of his ‘parental rights’ law will carry on

By: - December 9, 2022 4:13 pm

LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers speak out against HB 1557. March 7, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

The Florida House of Representatives is down a member following the resignation of former Rep. Joe Harding following his federal indictment. Harding sponsored the “Parental Rights in Education” or “Don’t Say Gay” bill from the 2022 session that became law in July.

But the effects of the legislation will continue without him as state agencies including the Department of Education work to uphold the measure that advocates say targets LGBTQ+ students and educators.

Next Wednesday, the Florida Board of Education is slated to discuss whether policies in 10 school districts are violating parental-notification requirements outlined under the law.

The law has two major functions: to ban discussions of LGBTQ+ topics from Pre-K through 3rd grade or in a manner that is not “age-appropriate” in higher grades, and to require parental notification if there is a “change in the student’s services.”

State Rep. Joe Harding. Credit: Florida House of Representatives

The school boards identified as potentially being in conflict with the law are Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and a special school district for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.

The Board of Education flagged its interest in LGBTQ+ policies during a September meeting, when board member Ryan Petty expressed “grave concerns” that some district policies were not in compliance with the law.

According to letters sent to these districts on Nov. 18, the Board of Education is urging them to reevaluate policies they’ve adopted to accommodate LGBTQ+ students and make sure they “comply with revised Florida law and State Board of Education rule.”

“Florida parents have a right to be fully informed of the education and educational services being provided to their students,” Jacob Oliva, senior chancellor for the department, said in his letters to the districts.

Policies under evaluation permit transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, require teachers and staff to use a student’s chosen name, and wait for a student’s consent before discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity with a parent, according to the letters sent to districts.

So, while Harding will be busy sorting out the federal indictment, the Board of Education will be deciding how to enforce the measures laid out in the former House member’s law. He faces counts of alleged wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements arising from applications for federal COVID-relief loans plus related charges. He has entered a not-guilty plea.

A vacant seat

House Speaker Paul Renner responded to Harding’s resignation in a written statement  Wednesday.

“After further consultation with Rep. Harding, I understand and respect his decision to submit his resignation. Any questions about his case should be directed to his legal counsel,” the statement reads.

“The Florida House remains focused on next week’s all-important special session on property insurance, hurricane recovery, and toll relief.”

Harding’s seat will likely be vacant for the special session and it’s not clear when it will be filled. Florida law leaves it to the governor to declare when a special election should be held to fill a vacant seat. The Phoenix reached out to the governor’s office to see what Gov. Ron DeSantis has in mind but hasn’t yet received a response.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.