Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes wants to amend a bill limiting classroom discussion of “sexual orientation or gender identity” to instead cover discussions on “human sexuality.”
Brandes’ proposed changes were first flagged by Evan Donovan of WFLA.
The House on Thursday voted 69-47 to pass the measure (HB 1557), which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The measure would limit school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, a measure opponents view as an affront to LGBTQ students and the community at large. The bill would prohibit those classroom discussions between kindergarten and third grade and limit talks in later grades to discussions that are “age-appropriate.” Parents could sue if they believed a discussion was inappropriate.
Supporters have lauded the bill as a necessary one for parental rights. At least one Republican has cited concerns children are being indoctrinated with “radical leftist gender theory.” The bill follows up on last year’s “Parental Bill of Rights,” which said public schools cannot infringe on the “fundamental rights” of parents to direct the upbringing of their child.
Brandes, a St. Petersburg Senator who frequently breaks with his party on some of the Legislature’s most controversial bills, has filed an amendment that would redirect the bill to encompass discussions of sexuality more broadly.
“It gives them what they want without treating people differently,” Brandes told Florida Politics. “It’s really focused on equality across the board and ensuring that those types of sensitive conversations happen at home for our youngest kids.”
Brandes said he is trying to persuade Republican leadership to back the amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Senate sponsor and Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley is expected to present the bill Monday. Brandes is a “no” on the bill as written because he doesn’t want “a second grade teacher discussing sexual activity with students, period.”
Miami Gardens Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones, the lone openly gay member of the Senate, does not sit on that committee. But he told Florida Politics the amendment is a step in the right direction and applauded Brandes for filing it. However, he said the bill would still be unnecessary without it.
“We just voted to give parents the rights that are already on the books. We didn’t need that parental rights (bill) last year, and we sure don’t need it again this year,” Jones said. “This is just, again, another attack on the LGBTQ community.”
Baxley’s past comments on the LGBTQ community and his filing of the bill doesn’t show love and respect for people, Jones argued. Jones said if he were a student, the bill would make him feel like he doesn’t matter and that legislating morality is more important than lifting people up.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has 13 Republicans, including Brandes, and seven Democrats. Assuming all Democrats vote in favor of his amendment, Brandes would need three other Republicans to vote for the amendment to get it added in committee.
Seven Republicans voted against the House bill, while just one Democrat supported it. Before voting against the measure, Lighthouse Point Republican Rep. Chip LaMarca told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel the bill would single out LGBTQ children and put them in a situation where they might not talk to students.
Following the House vote, House Speaker Chris Sprowls told reporters the bill is misunderstood. He also criticized the media for using the “Don’t Say Gay” moniker placed on the measure by critics, prominently Democratic House members who are members of the LGBTQ community.
“I think we would all agree that if we walked into a first-grade classroom and there was a teacher giving instruction about sexual intercourse, we would think that that is wildly inappropriate timing for a six-year-old,” Sprowls said. “At some point, it’s going to be appropriate for them to receive that kind of instruction.”
Brandes did not say he believes the bill would be detrimental to LGBTQ children. However, he said the LGBTQ community believes it would be.
“(The amendment) removes the feeling that this targets one group of individuals and really focuses on, ultimately, our outcome we want, which is we want these types of sensitive conversations for kids at a young age to be had in the home, not at school,” Brandes said.
Baxley filed the Senate version of the bill (SB 1834), which still has two more committee stops before it would be ready for the Senate floor. Instead, Senate leadership has decided to take up the House version, filed by Williston Republican Rep. Joe Harding, and slate it for only one committee stop.
Taking up House bills and sending it through one major committee is an option available to the Senate. However, it’s a rare step that has happened more frequently under Senate President Wilton Simpson, particularly on controversial bills.
Brandes said that move is becoming common practice, and called it “extremely disappointing.” Fast-tracking bills removes the ability of committee chairmen and members to individually evaluate bills, he added.
“It provides the President radically more authority that I think the rest of the Senate would like to have, because he can essentially take any bill and place it on an agenda on a committee that he can stack with votes, as he’s done in the past,” Brandes said.