The Florida legislative session ended on Friday, April 30. After a tumultuous year and a challenging legislative session, we wanted to make sure you knew that the ACLU of Florida has been working as hard as ever to protect our civil liberties. Despite the onslaught of undemocratic legislation introduced this year that will impact our collective rights, we are still hopeful and committed to ensuring justice is a reality for all.
Attacks on our First Amendment right to protest
The Florida Legislature passed House Bill 1, a bill that attacks Floridians’ First Amendment right to protest. This bill chills free speech, silences dissent, and criminalizes protesters and demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights. The bill, signed into law by Gov. DeSantis on April 19, is a direct attack on communities advocating for racial justice and an end to police brutality against Black and brown people. Read more about what HB1 does here.
Attacks on voting rights
Instead of passing legislation that would modernize Florida elections and maximize voter participation by making Election Day a paid holiday, expanding vote-by-mail, and instituting Same Day Voter Registration, legislators passed bills that would significantly reduce Floridians’ ability to exercise their right to vote. They passed Senate Bill 90, which will make it harder for Floridians to vote by mail, criminalize giving voters in line food or water, force voters to submit vote-by-mail requests more often than is currently required, and limit the accessibility of secure vote-by-mail drop boxes.
Attacks on transgender youth
This year, the Florida Legislature had the opportunity to protect the rights of transgender youth in our state. Instead, the Legislature passed a bill that denies transgender youth the critical life lessons that come from playing sports like teamwork, dedication, and the ability to lose with grace and win with humility. This is the first anti-LGBTQ+ bill passed in the Florida Legislature in 23 years.
Attacks on reproductive freedom
This year, the Florida House passed a bill, House Bill 1221, that would ban abortion in some cases and limit Floridians’ access to essential care. This bill would interfere with the patient-physician relationship and allows legislators to make the ultimate determination over who can and cannot receive abortion care. The bill would ultimately prevent people from exercising their right to determine what is best for them and their families. The bill did not get heard in the Senate.
Criminal justice reform stalls
The Legislature also had several opportunities to pass common sense criminal justice reforms that would incentivize rehabilitation in prison, reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and save hundreds of millions of dollars that could be reinvested in mental health, drug treatment services, educational programming, and vocational skills training. Instead, they did not pass the dozens of meaningful criminal justice reform measures introduced and let them die in committees.
Modest police reforms
The Florida Legislature also passed House Bill 7051, which creates minimum basic standards training for law enforcement. If signed into law, the bill will require law enforcement and correctional officer applicants to disclose to future criminal justice system employers any pending investigations for criminal, civil, or administrative wrongdoing. This bill is a welcome step in the right direction, but Florida still has a long way to go on police reforms. Floridians deserve comprehensive policing reform that reallocates resources to support community needs; amends the Florida police bill of rights to remove provisions that impose barriers to accountability; ends qualified immunity in Florida; and establishes empowered community oversight structures. In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black individuals at the hands of law enforcement, there has been universal recognition of the need to reform policing in America. Editor’s note: as of May 14th, we still do not know if DeSantis will sign HB 7051.
Overall, the Florida Legislature passed 275 bills this session, and dozens of them are harmful to Floridians’ civil liberties and civil rights.
Despite this, we are hopeful because we saw firsthand how many Floridians support measures that will advance civil liberties and civil rights. More than 14,000 ACLU supporters sent over 200,000 emails to their legislators. Hundreds of people traveled to Tallahassee to testify in person about bills that would harm our communities. We saw collective and creative action from our partners, friends, advocates, and champion legislators who pushed for reforms for everything from policing, to unemployment, and healthcare expansion.
We are heartened by this collective work, and the fact that Floridians are ready to see real change across our state. Our fight is not over. Despite the barriers that the 2021 Florida legislative session has presented, we will continue our efforts to ensure a more just Florida for all.