Florida Republicans deny their efforts to limit teachings on race, gender and sex are discriminatory
House Bill 7 prevents businesses and schools from requiring employees to take part in mandatory training that could lead a person to feel badly about themselves. This includes instruction on issues of race and gender.
“It is infuriating that the way we create these bills is, some tweet from the governor's office turns into legislation. And then we have to figure out how we defend it. We have to get to a point where we do the right thing by the policy first, instead of trying to satisfy a national twitter office," said Rep. Andrew Learned, a Brandon Democrat who views the proposal as a Trojan Horse—one designed to trap businesses into lawsuits and force silence on critical issues.
Democrats and organizations like the ACLU, NAACP and others see the bill as part of a broader Republican effort to cater to GOP base voters through attempts to stifle debate and conversations around race. HB7 is a manifestation of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-woke plan: a proposal that tries to curb teachings around critical race theory in schools and businesses—never mind that the concept--which explores how racism has influenced government policy-- isn’t taught in public schools.
“The notion this is some made-up phenomenon is ludicrous. This is something that affects our classrooms, that affects our businesses, and we’re in the height of the Great Recession," argued Rep. John Snyder, a Republican who represents part of Martin and Palm Beach.
Snyder believes the way organizations are talking about race, gender and sex issues is problematic. There’s a culture war, and it’s being waged in public school classrooms, and businesses.
“Frankly, if our corporate 500 businesses would stop focusing on this concept of putting training in place that makes people apologize for who they are as a person—that’s counterintuitive to who we are as a country. What your father does not dictate who you are. You are your own person, with your own actions and your own choices.”
That seeming denial of race, and by extension racism as a motivating factor for the bill, was offensive to North Florida Democratic Rep. Ramon Alexander.
“For a representative to say race doesn’t matter—what ozone layer are you on?” Alexander said to Snyder, ignoring the usual legislative protocol to not criticize other lawmakers directly.
His comments drew a rebuke from the House Judiciary Committee's chairwoman, Erin Grall, but Alexander was not done calling out Republicans, accusing them of pandering to their ever-fractious base of voters for the sake of political gain and sacrificing their morals along the way.
“If race didn’t matter… and this stuff didn’t poll well to get people to come out and vote and cause a dad-gum insurrection, we wouldn’t have these bills. We do it over and over again and we find the next boogeyman to distract from the reality that 28/29 of these counties keep voting for you," he said, referencing the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump to try to block President Joe Biden's certification.
Alexander and other opponents say the bill and similar efforts — like a bill that gives parents greater say to object to books and classroom materials on issues they don’t like—mark an effort to roll back progress that minority and LGBTQ people have made.
A third of Florida counties are designated as fiscally-constrained—which means they don’t generate enough taxes to cover their costs. Most of those counties are dominated by Republicans.
“I also love my country and I know we share the same love—Representative Alexander and I—and all the members of this committee," said bill sponsor, Miami Republican Rep. Bryan Avila, in an attempt to calm the room.
"And we want the best for this country, we want the best for our residents and we want the best for our state.”
Republicans and Democrats are far apart on what that “best” looks like. Since Republicans make up the majority in the legislature, their version is likely to be the one that goes into law.