WASHINGTON — A bill introduced in the Florida legislature earlier this week would require that “bloggers” who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, his administration or members of the state legislature register with state authorities or face potential fines.
Senate Bill 1316 violates First Amendment rights
Florida Senate Bill 1316 would mandate that anyone who falls under a loosely defined category of blogger must register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics within five days after publishing an article that mentions any of these state officials. The legislation specifically applies to anyone who is paid for such political reporting or commentary, but excludes “the website of a newspaper or any similar publication.”
A “blogger must file monthly reports on the 10th day following the end of each calendar month from the time a blog post is added to the blog,” reads the proposed legislation. The reports must include the “individual or entity that compensated the blogger for the blog post. The amount of compensation received from the individual or entity, regardless of how the compensation was structured.”
The state will levy fines ranging from $25 to $2,500 against anyone who doesn’t follow this process and fails to register and file such reports.
Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature has been cooperating with Gov. DeSantis to challenge long-standing legal precedents that protect journalists operating in the United States. According to reports, DeSantis’ goal is to take a legal challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court and overturn New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark ruling that limits public officials’ ability to sue publishers for defamation. DeSantis has also advocated for legal changes that would force journalists to reveal their sources, including whistleblowers shedding light on government abuses.
Free Press Action Co-CEO Craig Aaron said:
“Contrary to what Ron DeSantis might believe, the Constitution still applies in Florida. It’s hard to think of any legislation that’s more in violation of the First Amendment than this bill from the governor’s allies. That said, it’s not surprising that the same politicians who favor banning books from public schools and libraries and removing any mention of slavery and racial injustice from courses at state universities would want to further restrict free speech and press freedom in this way.
“This draconian legislation attacking the rights of journalists and other media makers represents a frightening new strain of authoritarianism in the United States. Whether it’s Texas legislation that would ban internet providers from connecting to websites offering abortion information or moves to take away people’s right to protest in Georgia, efforts to undermine our constitutional freedoms are finding a foothold in GOP-controlled states across the country.
“When people believe their voices aren’t being heard in mainstream forums and their rights aren’t being upheld by politicians they often take to alternative means — including blogging — to express their opinions and be heard. The Florida legislation and other bills like it are clearly designed to silence these dissenting voices and those of others who aren’t represented in more traditional political arenas.
“Florida’s anti-blogger bill is part of a larger culture war that’s driven by disinformation and intent on dividing our country and silencing the opinions of people without power. This dangerous legislation should be deep-sixed long before it ever reaches a courtroom. Bills like this are blatantly unconstitutional, deeply un-American and completely unjust. We have to fight such horrible bills and call out the politicians pushing them, who seek to entrench the views and prejudices of a privileged few while stripping away the rights of everyone else.”