TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida lawmaker has proposed an amendment to what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would remove the language many LGBTQ advocates felt targeted their community.
Fla. Sen. Jeffrey Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed an amendment — and later a substitute amendment clarifying its language — to the bill on Friday. The substitute amendment would replace the ban on classroom instruction about “sexual orientation or gender identity” with the words “human sexuality or sexual activity.”
“This accomplishes the goal without targeting anyone,” Brandes said.
Asked if he felt the bill was filed with the intent of targeting the LGBTQ community, Brandes replied “whether it was the intent or not, it doesn’t matter — the outcome was that people feel targeted.”
Similar amendments filed to the bill in the House failed, but Brandes said, “I believe we’ll find broad support for this amendment.”
He also said he doesn’t believe kids of that age should be talking about sex.
“It should happen at home — if at all,” Brandes said.
Opponents to the bill, including Fla. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, have called it the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill since shortly after it was introduced at the start of session.
“I’d call it the ‘Talk to Your Parents’ bill,” Brandes said.
House Bill 1557, entitled Parental Rights in Education, forces school districts to adopt procedures that “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children.”
That includes notifying parents if there are changes “related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being”; prohibiting policies that encourage students to withhold information from parents; allowing parents access to their child’s student records; giving parents the right to withhold consent for any healthcare services offered by the school; and obtaining permission from parents before administering any well-being questionnaire or health screening.
The bill also forces schools to respond to parent concerns within a week and resolve those issues within a month. If the school or district cannot or will not resolve the concern, parents can request a resolution from the Florida Commissioner of Education via appointment of a special magistrate. If adopted, parents would also be able to sue the school district for any violations of the new law.
The portion of the bill derided by critics who spawned its ‘Don’t Say Gay’ nickname currently states “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
The bill passed the Florida House on Thursday by a vote of 69-47, with seven Republicans opposing it and one Democrat in support.
Two Republicans from the Tampa Bay area voted against the measure: Fla. Reps. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, and Will Robinson, Jr., R-Bradenton.
Mariano told 8 On Your Side she had to vote with her conscience.
“I don’t want to comment too much because I have immense respect for the bill sponsor and the intent of the bill,” Mariano said. “But the [bill] language in the end—I wasn’t too happy with it.”
“When we vote to put new words into statute, it impacts a lot of people,” said Mariano, a real estate agent and paralegal who was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016. “You need to make sure when you’re pressing the green button that you’re 100% sure, and that’s true of any bill. Especially as a Libertarian-minded Republican, less government intrusion in any part of someone’s life is where I usually stand.”
Mariano said she has not yet seen the amendment language from Brandes.
A legislative aide for Robinson, Jr. said he was unavailable for an interview on Friday because he would be in session and a meeting of the redistricting committee.
The Florida Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Fla. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, has two more committee stops. Senate leadership has instead chosen to advance the House version in a rare move that is occurring more frequently.
HB 1557 now heads to the Senate Appropriations committee, where the bill and this new amendment will be heard at 10:30 a.m. on Monday morning.