A Look At Three Social Issues Vying For Debate In The Florida Legislature
Emotions can run high when social issues are discussed during session. Whether it's abortion, LGBTQ rights, or banning conversion therapy, getting a hearing on these issues can be important to getting them passed.
Parental / Guardian Consent for Abortion
Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) is backing a bill requiring parental or guardian consent for anyone under 18 to have an abortion. During a November meeting, Stargel explained why she's backing the bill.
"I thought for sure my mother would kill me when I told her that I was pregnant under age. It was a wonderful time in our relationship when I did tell my mother that I was pregnant," Stagel said.
After telling her mother about the ordeal, she says they became closer. "I have other family members who didn't do that. They went on and had the abortion and there's been a forever wedge in that relationship," she said.
Stargel's bill is slated to be heard again during the first week of the legislative session. A House version of the bill is heading to chamber's floor.
For 11 years, lawmakers have been trying to pass measures banning discrimination against LGBTQ people. Doing so would grant them protections in in the workplace, housing, and more. But despite growing support for these efforts, they've only been heard twice.
Kathryn DePalo-Gould is faculty at Florida International University. She's studied the Florida Legislature for the past 15 years, and explains how the process works:
"The Legislature in Florida is very top-down. It's very centralized. So whatever leadership wants, whatever the speaker of the house wants, the senate president finds as their priority, and sometimes whatever the governor finds as a priority, right? Become everything that the Legislature discusses."
Republicans hold the majority in Florida's Legislature. But for at least six sessions there's been a Republican sponsor on bills prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people. DePalo-Gould, says even with that support, the measure will be tough sell unless someone influential within the Republican caucus decides to back it.
"The people who do get up and speak and everyone stops to listen, those are the people that have influence. And they might not be getting this media coverage, they may not have that leadership position, they may not be that committee chairperson, but what they say becomes important."
Last year, Florida Republican Chairman Sen. Joe Gruters backed a bill banning workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people. However, he drew criticism for his measure not going far enough. It didn't have protections for housing and public accommodations.
Banning Conversion Therapy
Bills banning conversion therapy have never been heard by the Florida Legislature. This year's proposal bans professional counselors and anyone who regulates the practice of medicine from using conversion therapy on minors.
The American Mental Health Counselors Association defines the practice as seeking to change someone's sexual orientation. It also tries to change someone's gender identity. Aaron Norton is president of the Association's Florida branch.
"I don't view it as an ethical practice and additionally I don't think it's possible to do," Norton says.
The American Psychiatric Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and other medical associations oppose the practice. John Stemberger is CEO of the Florida Family Policy Council.
"It's really not a thing. It's kind of an ideological term that's attempting to loop ordinary counseling care into abusive practices," Stemberger says.
For Stemberger, if a patient walks into a counselor's office and asks for such services, that's counseling. To Norton, that's conversion therapy.
"For me personally, I wouldn't be able to help a client with a choice like that to try and change their sexual orientation," Norton says.
There are also efforts to repeal language from Florida law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. In 2015, a state and federal ruling allowed same-sex couples to get married in Florida, making the language unconstitutional.