Several committee members, including Republicans, said they had concerns about sections of the bill that would alter the requirements for which side must pay the other’s attorneys, fearing it could undermine laws meant to prevent lawsuits. frivolous or retaliatory actions designed to silence critics. .
Some said they expected amendments to the bill, which has also been forwarded to the House Committee on Judicial Affairs for review, before it is brought to the full House for further consideration.
John Harris Maurer, director of public policy for the LGBTQ group Equality Florida, told the committee that the bill also needs more clarification in a section dealing with defamatory allegations of discrimination against queer people.
Currently, the bill provides that a defendant cannot try to prove the truth of his claim by citing the plaintiff’s scientific or “constitutionally protected religious” beliefs or expressions.
Andrade insisted that his bill means a defendant cannot use such statements as his only evidence, but Harris Maurer said this was not clear from the text.
“This bill is sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic,” said Harris Maurer. “Why? Because it restricts people’s ability to speak out against sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia. It is politically motivated.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely reported to be preparing to announce a run for president, has expressed his plans. roll back press freedoms. DeSantis also organized a Round table on defamation last month with right-wing figures heralding the legislation.
After the meeting, the First Amendment Foundation’s Block told BuzzFeed News he was disappointed the bill had cleared its first hurdle, but suspected Republicans in the state would soon feel the pressure to vote in against by the conservative media, which would be just as at risk of libel suits as other press.
“A law like this is like weaponizing a virus or a bacteria,” Block said. “Once you release it in the wild, you have no idea what it’s going to do. You can’t control any of it. It could spin around and bite you in the ass.”