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Florida's Republican-controlled legislature is moving further right ahead of midterms


Republican-controlled state legislatures have been pushing further to the right, so we're going to spend some time now talking about one of the states where that's happening - Florida. Hot-button cultural issues - abortion, race and gender identity - have all been at the forefront of the agenda for conservative lawmakers there - all of this at the same time that Florida lawmakers are fighting with the governor over the state's new congressional map, a fight that could have national political implications. Here to help us sort through this all is Lynn Hatter. She's news director at WFSU in Tallahassee. Lynn, welcome.

LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

FLORIDO: Let's start with abortion. Just days ago, the Florida Legislature approved a bill that will severely restrict abortions in the state. Can you tell us what's in it?

HATTER: This proposal is modeled after Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban, and Florida Republicans are feeling very confident. The Mississippi bill is before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Republicans are saying, hey, if Mississippi can do it, then so can we.

FLORIDO: And is Governor Ron DeSantis expected to sign the bill?

HATTER: Governor Ron DeSantis is likely to sign, and, in fact, he has actually said that he supports it. This particular proposal does not have any clause for rape or incest, which was something that even our incoming Republican Senate president wanted, but she was overruled on that.

FLORIDO: Well, there's another very controversial piece of legislation. It's been referred to as the Don't Say Gay bill, and it would ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. Why do lawmakers behind this bill say it's needed?

HATTER: Well, the bigger part of this bill involves parental notification. Currently, schools can - if a child says that they don't want their parent to know if they're struggling with gender or sexual identity, they can tell the school that they don't want their parents to know, and the school will not inform them. And so supporters of this bill say, hey, we are their parents. We have a right to know what's happening with my child. Another argument against it from families is, you know, does that mean that my child cannot say that they have two moms?

During a recent debate over this bill in the House, there were seven Republicans who actually joined with the Democratic minority to vote against this piece of legislation. That said, it is still likely to pass. And this is another one of those things that will soon get to Governor Ron DeSantis's desk.

FLORIDO: What are you hearing from parents and students about this bill?

HATTER: Well, there was actually a recent student protest. Students say that it is the equivalent of silencing their voices. Parents - LGBTQ parents are saying that this is basically the erasure of families who don't fit a traditional mold.

FLORIDO: Well, we know Governor DeSantis has been a very vocal critic of what he calls the teaching of critical race theory in schools, something that we should note is not part of school curricula there. Still, the Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit public schools and businesses from making people feel, quote, "guilty based on their race, sex or national identity." If this bill is passed, how would it work?

HATTER: So this one basically says that teachers cannot teach in a way that could make a student feel badly about themselves. It says employers cannot force employees to take any sort of training that could do the same. The governor has made it clear that he wants to crack down on so-called wokeness. And it is interesting. It seems like Republicans did make a sort of tacit acknowledgment that it was flawed because they actually OK'd a single amendment onto the bill that says it is OK to teach about slavery. But again, it follows with a caveat - as long as you don't make someone feel bad.

And so it's very ambiguous. Schools are looking at it with a lot of concern about, well, how do we teach really contentious issues and moments in history? And businesses are looking at it because it opens up another legal avenue for them to be sued. Despite all of those concerns, Republicans are still moving forward on this particular measure, and it, too, will soon hit the governor's desk.

FLORIDO: And finally, let's talk about something that could potentially have national implications, and that is congressional redistricting. The Florida Legislature just approved two voting maps for the state, which is kind of unusual. What's going on there?

HATTER: Well, the two maps are a product between a fight between the governor and the Legislature. The Legislature essentially passed a primary map and a backup plan. Governor Ron DeSantis is now threatening to veto both of those maps because neither one of them give him exactly what he wants. The governor did actually present his own proposed map. The Legislature did not go with his version. The governor wanted a bigger Republican majority in our congressional delegation. His proposal would have drastically cut the number of Democrats representing Florida in Congress. The original House and Senate plans would have kept those numbers a lot closer to where they are now. That is also driving the divide here on congressional redistricting.

FLORIDO: That was WFSU's news director, Lynn Hatter, joining us from Tallahassee, Fla. Lynn, thanks for being here.

HATTER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Hatter
Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.