We're at the halfway mark of the Florida Legislature's two-month annual session. As they do every year, politicians from across the state file plenty of bills that are either patently ridiculous or laughably controversial. Many of these pieces of legislation never even make it to a committee hearing, but thanks to Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature, some actually do.
Here's a look at some of the more controversial bills that are still very much alive.
Making Abortion a Felony
SB 1718 / HB 865
This bill would essentially ban abortion in Florida by making it a felony for anyone to perform or assist one. The bill has passed a single committee in the House, but other committees in the House and Senate haven't taken it up yet. If it passed, the bill would undoubtedly set up a court fight and would almost certainly be struck down. That won't stop social conservatives from trying, though.
Meanwhile, a bill that takes direct aim at Planned Parenthood has cruised through the House. The bill would ban Medicaid from paying for any services at any clinic that performs abortions (i.e., Planned Parenthood). It's awaiting full passage in the House and has cleared one subcommittee in the Senate.
Granting Gov. Rick Scott Military Powers to Keep Syrian Refugees and Other Immigrants Out of Florida
SB 1712 / HB 1095
This is a seriously silly bill, introduced in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, that would do its best to keep out anyone who has ever been or lived in a country where terrorist cells are active. The bill would also grant the governor "military power" to try to keep those "restricted persons" out of the state.
A Bill That Would Make "Stand Your Ground" Even More Controversial
You thought after the Trayvon Martin tragedy that Florida lawmakers would reconsider the controversial "Stand Your Grand" law? Nope. In fact, they've found a way to make it even more controversial. Naturally, the changes are backed by the National Rifle Association. Currently, people hoping to invoke the Stand Your Ground defense to have charges thrown out must first prove why they're protected under the law in a pretrial hearing. The new law would make prosecutors clearly prove why the defendant isn't protected by Stand Your Ground. Critics say the bill would make it even harder for victims to get justice. The bill has already passed in the Senate. Oddly, the House version stalled in committee even before the beginning of the official session. House leaders, however, could still bring the Senate version directly to the House floor for a vote.
Open Carry and Guns on Campuses
Of course, Florida's gun-loving legislators also have other gun issues on their minds. Two NRA-backed bills have already passed the House. One would bring "open carry" to Florida. The other would allow guns on college campuses. Both bills are expected to die in the Senate (as they have in previous sessions) but haven't quite petered out yet.
The "Pastor Protection" Act
SB 110 / HB 43
Thanks to that thing called the U.S. Constitution, churches are not forced to marry anyone they don't want to. In reaction to gay marriage legalization, though, certain Florida Republicans want to make that fact crystal clear. The bill is opposed by LGBT-rights groups and even some mainstream religious leaders who believe the bill simply isn't needed. The bill is awaiting a vote in the House and is in its final committee in the Senate.
A Possible Gutting of Florida's Public Record Laws
SB 1220 / HB 1021
Florida has some of the most progressive open record laws in the nation. Sure, that's accidentally contributed to the spread of the "Florida Man" meme, but otherwise, it's something generations of Floridians have been proud of and have fiercely protected.
However, there's a strain of activists out there who test the limits of open records by requesting numerous documents from government agencies and then file lawsuits if their request isn't granted. Some observers say those people are civic-minded activists. Others say they're "economic terrorists" looking to cash in with frivolous lawsuits. This bill would address the issue by removing a requirement that government agencies pay the plaintiffs' attorney's fees when they're found to have violated open record laws. But critics say the change would lead to more agencies refusing to comply with open record requests from well-meaning citizens.
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The bill is sailing through committees in the House and Senate.
Alimony Overhaul and Child Custody Hearing
HB 455 / SB 688
Support for this bill isn't falling strictly along Democrat-Republican lines, but anything dealing with divorce is sure to be a controversial issue, and previous efforts to overhaul the state's alimony laws have failed several times over the past few years. This bill would end permanent alimony and instead set up a standard formula for alimony payment based on length of marriage and the difference of income between spouses. Depending upon the situation, the wealthier spouse would have to pay alimony only for a length equivalent to 25 percent to 75 percent of the marriage. No alimony would be awarded for marriages of less than two years. Supporters say the bill would provide more standardization to divorce cases and prevent judges from going rogue in their decisions. Detractors, including the National Organization of Woman, say the bill is unfair to older women who may have forgone careers to raise families and face difficulty joining the workforce later in life.
Governor Scott vetoed a similar bill in 2013 because it would have applied retroactively to alimony cases already decided. Meanwhile, Senate leaders want to pass the bill in conjunction with a bill that would make equally split custody the default in Florida. The House version is awaiting a vote by the full body, while the Senate version is still in committee. (The Senate's custody bill, however, has already passed all of its committees.)