A bill that would prohibit “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in K-3 classes is heading to Governor Ron DeSantis‘ desk after passing its final stop in the Senate on Tuesday.
The Republican-led Senate approved the measure (HB 1557) in a 22-17 vote along near party lines after hours of debate. Senators Jeff Brandes and Jennifer Bradley were the only Republicans to vote against the bill.
The legislation, introduced by Representative Joe Harding and sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, is a major pillar in the Governor’s larger legislative agenda, which also includes a 15-week abortion ban, cracking down on critical race theory (CRT) teachings inside the classroom, and safeguarding elections. The proposal would prohibit instruction of LGBTQ topics for kindergarten through third-graders while also providing parents more transparency regarding curriculum and their child’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
According to NPR:
“The legislation prohibits any instruction about sexuality or gender between kindergarten and third grade ‘or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.’”
It would also guarantee parents access to their children’s education and health records and require that schools notify parents “if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student.”
Schools could withhold information from parents if they believed that disclosing it could result in abuse, abandonment or neglect.”
The contentious legislation, branded the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, has drawn nationwide attention and outrage, becoming one of the biggest ‘culture war’ issues in Florida’s 2022 Legislative Session. The bill has received backlash from Hollywood actors and President Joe Biden, who could potentially find himself in a presidential showdown with DeSantis in 2024. The White House specifically condemned the bill last month as ‘hateful’ to LGBTQ kids.
“I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve,” Biden tweeted in February.
Opponents say they take issue with the broad language in the measure, which they argue could harm LGBTQ children and open school districts to lawsuits from parents who disagree with such topics and discussions.
Senate Democrats also pointed to an exchange between Senator Tina Polsky and the bill’s sponsor that took place on Monday, which they say proves that the bill is designed to stop kids from coming out as LGBTQ.
“To those who think you can legislate gay people away, I’m sorry. You cannot. I think you should legislate to protect them,” said Senator Shevrin Jones.
Supporters disagree, noting that parents should be the only ones responsible for teaching their children about sexuality and issues surrounding identity.
“I know how important it is to empower parents in this relationship. I want to encourage parents across Florida to own it. They’re your kids, and it is tough to figure out what influences will be on them and what kind of decisions they will make,” Baxley said in his closing remarks.
The Florida House passed the controversial bill by a vote of 69-47 on Feb. 24. Seven House Republicans crossed party lines to vote against it last month.
DeSantis is expected to sign the legislation after he signaled his support for the effort during an event in early February.
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.