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Florida Democratic Lawmakers Uneasy Over Hate Crimes Bill Committee Reassignment

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Advocates are pushing a Republican committee chair to hear a bill that would expand Florida's hate crime protections to include gender and gender identity. The bill cleared its first committee but got reassigned before its next committee stop.

The measure was initially assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). Sen. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) says Brandes voted in favor of the bill in its first committee hearing.

"Since he was in support of the bill in the criminal justice committee, there was a strong presumption that he would hear the bill in his judiciary committee," Berman says.

The measure is now heading to the Senate Appropriations Committee instead—chaired by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland). Stargel calls herself a "conservative fighting for family values."

The House version of the bill has not yet been assigned a date to be heard. Its sponsor, Rep. Joe Geller (D-Dania Beach), has pushed the bill for several years. During a virtual press conference on the measure, he referenced the 2018 Tallahassee hot yoga studio shooting.

"Someone went in, some deeply misogynistic individual went in and shot and killed people at a yoga studio. And apparently, part of his motivation was just that he hated women—no other way to put it. Had he lived, he could not have been prosecuted under the hate crimes law because gender is not included," Geller says.

One of the victims of the shooting was Maura Binkley. Her father, Jeff Binkley, also spoke during the virtual press conference to support the lawmaker's proposal.

"People are injured. People lose their lives in hate crimes throughout Florida, throughout this country, and sadly at an ever-increasing rate. The impact on families, on friends, on the communities in which these occur is terrible," Binkley says.

The bill would also redefine disabilities under the Florida hate crimes law to include "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities." The change is meant to expand protections to more people.