Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who is running for Attorney General, filed what he calls the “Free Enterprise Protection Act” on Tuesday.
HB 871 would prevent “discriminatory action” by any governmental entity in the state against businesses.
The bill, per a press release from Fant’s AG campaign, is timed to coincide with the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments on a “Colorado wedding cake baker declining to make a unique wedding cake celebrating gay marriage because it was against his religious beliefs as a Christian.“
Fant asserted that case “should make small businesses in Florida and everywhere worry about just how far government is allowed to go to regulate the free speech of private industry. I filed the ‘Free Enterprise Protection Act’ today to ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their first amendment rights, whether through their speech or their work as an artisan, as in the case of the wedding cake baker.”
“The government simply should not force business owners to create things they do not want to create. The more and more regulations that are handed down from government, the less and less freedom we have,” Fant added.
Fant said the bill would “guarantee government cannot act in a discriminatory way toward a business by using their force through the assessment of taxes, penalties or any other means to bankrupt or harm a business when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”
He also said discriminatory action would include attempts by government to “alter the tax treatment” of businesses, which would include imposing penalties against them for crimes unlisted in the legislation as filed.
It would also include attempts to deny or revoke a business’s exemption from taxation, as well as withholding or denying a business’s “access or entitlement” to property, including “speech forums.”
The bill would also prohibit governments in Florida from discriminating against “internal policies” of businesses, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
Fant’s bill, if passed, could be used as a springboard to challenge local laws that conflict with rights enumerated in the bill, including Jacksonville’s own Human Rights Ordinance.
The HRO, as it is called locally, was expanded in 2016 to include LGBT people, protecting their rights in the workplace, in the housing market, and in public accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms.
Fant told Jacksonville Republicans earlier this year that Mayor Lenny Curry could have done more to stop that bill, which was approved by 2/3 of the City Council, from becoming law.
Worth noting: Curry endorsed Rep. Frank White over Fant for Attorney General.
Both White and Curry employ Tim Baker and Brian Hughes as political consultants.