Legislature reverses course, keeps college athlete pay on track for July 2021

The fix caused a renewed debate on transgender athletes.

Just days after delaying a law allowing college athletes to begin cashing in on their name, image and likeness for another year, GOP lawmakers are reversing course.

That compensation rights law, approved during the 2020 Session, is now set to once again take effect on July 1, 2021, pending approval from the Governor. The change comes as part of a two-day-long drama, where the issue became wrapped into Florida’s push to block transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s sports.

On Wednesday, Republicans tacked an amendment onto a bill regulating transgender athletes that delayed the athlete compensation law from taking effect until July 2022. After days of outcry from major college athletes and universities — which had relied on those compensation rights going into effect this year during the recruiting process — the House and Senate agreed to a measure undoing that change.

The reversal comes along with an amendment from GOP Rep. Jay Trumbull blocking postsecondary institutions from using state funds to “join or maintain membership in an association whose decisions or proposed decisions are a result of, or in response to, actions proposed or adopted by the Legislature, if such decisions or proposed decisions will result in a negative fiscal impact to the state.”

That is, universities can’t use state money to pay membership fees to an organization which seeks to boycott Florida based on a change in law.

Democrats pointed out the NCAA has threatened to pull events from the state because of the transgender athlete bill, thereby causing “a negative fiscal impact to the state.”

Trumbull denied the provision directly targeted the NCAA and said schools may remain a member of the NCAA or any other group that boycotts the state. And GOP Sen. Travis Hutson explained Friday that NCAA fees won’t be affected, as they’re paid with auxiliary funds, not state money.

“I don’t believe it affects our universities or colleges at all,” Hudson said when debating Trumbull’s amendment Friday.

“I’ve talked to universities such as FSU and the University of Florida. They agree with my assessment that this will not cause any harm to them,” he said.

Democrats nevertheless raised questions over the provision.

“With this amendment, we are furthering ‘cancel culture’ because we don’t like what the NCAA and what other organizations have to say about what we do in this building,” Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy said during the House debate Friday.

And other Democrats decried Republicans for approving the delay in the first place as part of the transgender athlete regulation bill.

Republican Rep. David Smith, who sponsored Friday’s underlying legislation undoing the change, argued the delay was approved to allow universities additional time to regulate what is and is not allowed under the athlete compensation program. But he said after hearing pushback from the college athletic community, and the harm the delay could cause to athletes, he and his colleagues sought to reverse course.

Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith had another theory.

“Everyone knows why you didn’t see it and you’re now trying to fix it. Everyone knows. It’s because Republican members were busy high-fiving each other and celebrating the passage of a law that expels and humiliates transgender students,” he thundered on the floor.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, also a Democrat, didn’t mince words when debating the bill. She took umbrage with the fact that lawmakers were compelled to reinstate the original compensation date after hearing from those affected, but didn’t heed the comments from the transgender community about their concerns with the transgender sports bill.

“And so the question that I bring for you today, and you can take this into next Session, is: why did some voices mater more to you than others? Why did the messages from trans kids and their parents not even move you, but 24 hours of tweets and articles in Sports Illustrated did?” she said.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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