Senate President Wilton Simpson on Thursday removed Democratic Sen. Lauren Book as chair of a key committee that could consider legislation that would further restrict abortion in Florida.
Book, of Plantation, had been the head of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee since the 2018 Legislative Session. Simpson replaced her with Sen. Ileana Garcia.
Book has been critical of plans by Simpson and other Republicans to consider abortion bans similar to the one recently enacted in Texas.
In a memo to senators Thursday, Simspson explained he replaced Book as a committee chair because she also serves as Senate Democratic Leader, a post that requires a time commitment.
“In my view, if anyone could take on a dual leadership role, it would be Leader Book. However, reassigning the role to another Senator is in the best interest of the institution,” Simspon wrote in the memo. “I look forward to a productive upcoming legislative session. The Senate has a long history of collegial work to serve the people of Florida, and I expect that we will continue to work together to craft meaningful legislation to address the unique set of challenges that we will face this year.”
In a statement posted on the Florida Senate’s Twitter account, Simpson said, “Senator Garcia is a passionate advocate for the elderly, foster children, and victims of domestic violence. I have every confidence she will be an excellent committee chair.”
Simpson, who is running for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, said last week the Legislature would likely consider a measure during the 2022 Session that is similar to the one adopted in Texas that bans most abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That’s usually at about six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. The Texas law does not include an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Book responded quickly to Simpson’s comments and sharply criticized the plan.
“Any attempt to emulate the Texas abortion ban is an all-out assault on women’s rights,” said Book, who was a victim of sexual and physical abuse as a child. “The introduction of such a bill would send a clear message to me, and to other survivors of sexual assault, that we do not matter — that our state leaders care more about our rapists than about us.”
When asked Thursday about Simpson’s move to remove her from the committee position, Book said she was “honored” to have been the chair of a committee where she was given an opportunity to “lead the Florida Senate in shaping smart, out-of-the-box policy to protect the health, safety and well-being of children and vulnerable adults.”
Simpson’s decision to remove Book may help him move an abortion bill through the Senate.
Book in the 2021 Legislative Session killed a bill that would have banned women from obtaining abortions if their fetuses have a disability or a potential disability.
The House had passed Rep. Erin Grall‘s HB 1221 on April 23. But it died after Book refused to consider the Senate counterpart.
Book wasn’t the only Democratic Senator to head a committee who refused to consider priority legislation during the 2021 Session.
Simpson ran into a logjam when key legislators opposed taking up a contentious “anti-riot” bill that was a top priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis. Simpson was forced to maneuver the bill around a Senate committee led by Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from Aventura.
Simpson has not strippped Pizzo of his committee chair, though. Additionally, Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, continues to chair the Senate Agriculture and Community Affairs committee.