Florida rep files bills ‘requiring bloggers to register,’ helping politicians sue media

(As originally published with more photos, Mon, March 6th 2023, 6:58 PM EST)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (TND) — The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says the government can’t abridge the freedom of speech or of the press, but a state senator in Florida submitted a bill that could do exactly that.

SB 1316, called “Information Dissemination,” would force bloggers to register with the state if they are paid and they write about “the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.”

That controversial section is tucked away after seemingly unrelated changes to notifying the public about court orders and judgments requiring sales.

The section in question starts with definitions but involves getting paid to write about “an elected state officer.”

If passed, the blogger would have 5 days to register “after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.”

But that’s not all.

After that, it says “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, except that, if the 10th day following the end of a calendar month occurs on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the report must be filed on the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.

And, the report would have to tell the government who paid the blogger, how much money was involved, and where the post could be found — or there will be fines.

The bill even compares the potential filings by bloggers to the requirements lobbyists have to follow. Lobbying is not a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.

The bill also says, “A blogger may request that the filing of a report be waived upon good cause shown based on reasonable circumstances,” and the state of Florida “may grant or deny the request.”

Finally, new laws in Florida take effect July 1 but this one would become effective sooner: “Upon becoming a law.”

Why the rush?

The bill doesn’t say, or mention a particular goal. It was referred to three committees on Monday, March 6.

State Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Fla., filed SB 1316, “requiring bloggers to register with the Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics, as applicable, within a specified timeframe,” Feb. 28, 2023. (Fla. legislature file)

State Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Republican from outside Orlando, filed the bill Tuesday.

The day before, he happened to file another bill — SB 1220, called “Defamation and related actions” — that would strengthen defamation cases against professional journalists.

That bill would take effect July 1 if passed. It was referred to two committees on Monday.

Brodeur’s campaign website says he “supports the DeSantis-Trump agenda” and that Gov. Ron DeSantis, expected to run for president in 2024, endorsed Brodeur in his run for senator.

DeSantis, a fellow Republican in a state where the GOP holds a supermajority in the legislature, had already proposed making it easier for public figures such as himself to sue for defamation.

He called for overturning the longstanding actual malice standard from the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan.

For decades, people who thrust themselves into the spotlight, such as by running for public office, have had to prove actual malice by publications to win defamation cases.

But a related bill in the state House “specifies certain persons may not be considered public figures.”

Part of the text reads, “A public figure does not need to show actual malice to prevail in a defamation cause of action when the allegation does not relate to the reason for his or her public status.”

State Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Fla., filed HB 991 which “Provides that journalist’s privilege does not apply to defamation claims when defendant is professional journalist or media entity,” Feb. 28, 2023. (Fla. legislature file)

That bill was sponsored by Rep. Robert Alexander “Alex” Andrade, another Republican.

His earlier bill, which was withdrawn, said a person “is not a public figure for purposes of defamation claim if his or her fame or notoriety arises in specified manner.”

The text there said, “Defamatory falsehoods are equally injurious to plaintiffs regardless of whether they are public officials, public figures, or private figures.

Just after the November midterm elections, in which DeSantis won reelection as governor, Florida Republicans started discussing loosening rules that generally require politicians to resign in order to run for another office, specifically for DeSantis to remain governor while campaigning around the country for president.

Florida’s legislative session starts Tuesday, March 7.

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