Fort Myers Florida Weekly
By Roger Williams
House bill would have a chilling effect on free speech, constitutional experts warn.
Florida Republican legislators now less than three weeks into the rule-making eight-week 2023 legislative session in Tallahassee are preparing to break faith with almost 60 years of American jurisprudence established by the Supreme Court in 1964 to protect free speech. Following a public discussion criticizing media and a call to legislators to rein in its excesses by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month, the legislators took steps to do that, introducing a bill that would allow politicians and other government officials or public figures to sue any critics they claim defamed them — without having to prove actual malice if the critics point to behaviors or events arguably unrelated to the job: extra marital affairs, for example, or possible business deals.
In another striking break with precedence, the bill says anybody who accuses an official of discrimination “against another person or group because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity” has automatically defamed them, whether or not the allegation is true.