By Scott Maxwell
January 16, 2024
You probably know Florida lawmakers take an oath swearing to uphold the Constitution.
Unfortunately, you may also know that many of these politicians take that oath about as seriously as a serial philanderer treats a wedding vow. They regularly and cavalierly violate your rights.
Don’t take it from me. Take it from federal judges on both sides of the aisle.
One judge, appointed by Donald Trump, struck down an attempt by Gov. Ron DeSantis and GOP legislators to kneecap donations to citizen-led amendment drives, calling their attempted restriction “wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” Another judge said their attempt to ban social media companies from regulating their own platforms violated free-speech laws.
These politicians, many of whom are lawyers, know their bills are unconstitutional. Yet they pass them anyway and then use your tax dollars and $675-an-hour lawyers to wage legal fights they know they’ll lose.
All of which brings us to their latest attempt to violate your Constitutional and parental rights — their plan to make it illegal for minors to have social media accounts, even with parental permission and supervision.
I have lots of thoughts about the corrupting potential of social media. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter what I think. The Constitution says government can’t tell citizens what kind of information they can consume. Yet this bill attempts to do just that.
“If I want to allow my children to read something, this is the state telling me I can’t do that,” said Howard Simon, the longtime leader of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
If you want government controlling your access to information, you might really enjoy life in Cuba or China.
Again, I understand social-media concerns. My wife and I didn’t let our kids own smartphones until long after many of their friends had them. But that’s a decision for us to make — not government. And any true conservative knows that.
The problem, Simon said, is that “These are not conservatives. These are moralistic authoritarians.”
Instead of carefully thinking through issues, they govern like the loud drunk at the end of the bar who belches out opinions on everything without researching hardly anything. “This Legislature seems to enact legislation by gut reaction,” Simon said.
Howard Simon, longtime executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida who has returned to run the organization on a temporary basis. (Photo courtesy ACLU of Florida.)Howard Simon, longtime leader of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. (ACLU of Florida.)
Simon described the bill as another example of “authoritarian creep.” I think it’s more of a gallop. First, GOP lawmakers tried to tell parents they couldn’t take their kids to see some shows with female impersonators. Now they’re trying to tell you that you can’t make your own decisions for your own children inside your own home. They only believe in selective “parental rights.”
“This bill shows that ‘parental rights’ was just a cover for censorship for the governor’s political allies and army of book-banners,” Simon said. “What HB1 says is: We’re going to dictate to parents how you raise your children.”
The fact that this is House Bill No. 1 is significant. That number means it’s a top priority for the speaker. Not fixing the insurance crisis. Not raising Florida’s sad-sack SAT scores. And not addressing the state’s yearslong waiting lists for services needed by families with disabilities.
The bill would ban anyone younger than 16 from creating a new social-media account — even if they have their parents’ permission. It also asks social-media companies to revoke existing accounts for minors, paves the way for civil lawsuits and contemplates $50,000 fines.
The Legislature’s own staff analysts warned lawmakers the bill may run roughshod over the Constitution, saying: “The language in the bill may implicate consideration of a number of constitutional protections.”
But because lawmakers care more about what Speaker Paul Renner wants than what the Constitution says, the bill passed its first committee on a 13-1 vote with only one South Florida Democrat objecting.
“I 100% understand the motivation behind this bill as a former middle school and high school teacher,” said Miami Democrat Ashley Gantt, according to Florida Politics. “It just contradicts how we allow parents to have the ability to make decisions for their child.”
Some censorship supporters argue society already restricts some content restrictions for minors, such as with R-rated movies. But with R-rated movies, someone has already scanned a specific film’s content and concluded it’s meant for mature audiences while parents still make the final call. This bill would ban an entire medium for minors — even if the content is educational in nature and even if parents want their kids to have access to it.
Lawmakers seem to know their censorship plan is problematic, because their bill is a 10-page train wreck.
They know they can’t censor everything. So they started listing social-media sites that would be exempt from their ban. They started with examples A, B and C — and didn’t stop until they hit S. Among the sites they still want minors to access are ones that focus on “professional networking” (as all 8-year-olds crave) and “community groups for public safety.”
They’re trying to put lipstick on a pig. But no matter how many exemptions they include, this bill still violates your rights.
The problem is: They don’t care. They’ve passed scores of unconstitutional laws before, wasted tax dollars defending them and still been re-elected. If you give your dog a treat every time he poops on the carpet, the bad behavior will continue.
I’ve argued before that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay these unnecessary legal bills. The politicians should, out of their own pockets — especially in cases where experts and the state’s own analysts warn them in advance.
But the better idea would be for these pandering pols to stop running roughshod over the Constitution in the first place. And maybe even pay some respect to the parental rights they claim to respect.
(See Article via Orlando Sentinel website)