Citing a potential infringement of free-speech rights and other constitutional liberties, dozens of people gathered to challenge a rule proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration that would restrict the way protests can be conducted in Florida’s Capitol Complex.
The state Department of Management Service’s proposal, in part, seeks to prohibit actions or displays that are “harmful” to children from taking place in the Capitol.
“Because the Capitol Complex is often a destination for children learning about their state government, visual displays, sounds, and other actions that are harmful to minors” as defined in state law, “or which include gratuitous violence, or gore, are not permitted in any portion of the Capitol Complex that is not a traditional public forum,” the proposed rule said.
Numerous individuals and representatives of advocacy groups that frequently hold demonstrations at the Capitol pushed back against the proposal during a public hearing Thursday.
Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for the Florida AFL-CIO, said he has spent decades in and around the Capitol and sees “absolutely no reason for a change in this rule.”
“In 20 years, I’ve never seen the process stopped or impeded for any significant amount of time — much to my chagrin, to be honest. I’ve never seen gore inside the Capitol Complex. I’ve never seen officers or staff hurt,” Templin said.
Templin also said he has guided tours for elementary-school children of the Capitol building and never ran into the issues the proposed rule seeks to block.
Protests have long been commonplace inside the state Capitol. During the 2022 legislative session, for instance, student protesters filled the building’s fourth floor rotunda — just outside of the doors to the House and Senate chambers — voicing loud objections to a controversial education measure.
The measure, which ultimately was signed by DeSantis, is designed to bar classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. Republican lawmakers who supported the bill described it as a way to strengthen parents’ control of what their children encounter in the classroom. The measure’s detractors disparagingly labeled it the “don’t say gay” bill.
The proposed rule could be used “to censor viewpoints in support of LGBTQ+ youth and families,” Kara Gross, legislative director for the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement condemning the plan.
Representatives from other organizations similarly criticized the proposal as having the potential to allow state leaders to stifle political foes.
“Not only is the proposal itself outrageous, but the way they want to implement it will amount to nothing more than profiling by the State Capitol Police,” Tessa Petit, co-executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said in a statement. “They want to empower law enforcement to remove individuals they think may prove disruptive from traditional public forum arenas.”
Another part of the proposal dealing with “disturbances” and “removal” from the Capitol lays out offenses that would cause violators to be removed from state buildings for trespassing.
“Public access does not permit anyone to enter or remain in or upon buildings in the Florida Facilities Pool while creating a disturbance that is impeding or disrupting the performance of official duties or functions of public employees or officers” or preventing access by members of the public, the proposed rule said.
NR Hines, a criminal justice policy strategist for the ACLU of Florida, said parts of the rule are unconstitutional.
“Protests are a crucial means of expressing disagreement with your government,” Hines said.
Hines pointed to a portion of the proposal that laid out criteria for trespassing and removal by law enforcement such as the Capitol Police as being a violation of rights.
The proposal discussed Thursday included some changes from an earlier draft of the plan.
For example, the latest version of the proposed rule dropped a provision that would have prohibited conduct in state buildings that “creates loud or unusual” noise.
Another change walked back a part of the rule that would have allowed people to be removed from state buildings for conduct that would be “likely to impede or disrupt” public officials’ duties.
The Department of Management Services is accepting written public comment on the proposal until Dec. 8.
–Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida
Deborah Coffey says
Sure. DeSantis sent how many children to their Covid deaths by banning masks in schools? Now, he wants to “protect” children? Give me a break.
Ron TrumpSantis is getting out of hand and is trying to dictate how everyone has to behave. The warning signs are written on the wall—he is Trump II, only quieter and less disruptive about it, which makes him even more scary.
Joe D says
OMG….Yes, let’s “protect” our visiting children from citizens exercising yet another Constitutional right: the right to gather in [peaceful] protest to petition the government for redress (relief from or disagreement with a government law or ruling). I’m not talking about a mini-January 6 type RIOT, but an organized (or unorganized) group advocating to their elected representatives for consideration of their issues.
ANOTHER sad day for Florida! Wake up people…
Since it clear what the real reason is, it’s almost silly to comment on it, but it makes more sense to ban children and not have field trips there anymore than to take away another right Americans used to take for granted – free speech. The right to protest infringements on human rights.
If a child wants to see the capital (risking destroying their soul) their parents can take them. Personally I think children need to be exposed to truth, or at least controversy, to understand the world, to be activists for matters that affect them and their future. They should be exposed to the process as it has existed in this county.
Having said that, hopefully there were no children taking a field trip in the DC capitol building in January.
Those of the kind of protests (by violent hate groups) need to be banned. It’s unfortunate that the president at the time didn’t think so, in fact instigated it, refused to put a stop to it, and now has a chance to be president again.
What’s wrong with this picture? Wow.
Go get it done DeSantis. Best Governor ever for FL.
Bill C says
Trump was right about one thing: calling DeSantis “Ron Sanctimonious”. The oldest sanctimonious ploy in political manipulation, DeSantis is using children as a false wedge issue for his own political gain. “…actions that are harmful to minors” as defined in state law, “or which include gratuitous violence, or gore, are not permitted in any portion of the Capitol Complex”. AK 47’s, AR15’s- let’s not talk about Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas. Shuuuush! DeSantis is protecting the children!
Timothy Patrick Welch says
These protesters should identify their local representative and make their voice heard at their local office. That’s how the system works. I would suppose employees and people passing by these areas might be somewhat alarmed and a bit afraid of these protesters. I mean if calling someone by the wrong pronoun is a micro aggression then this workplace protest might be an OSHA violation.
That would be nice Tim but when I’ve contacted Renner or Hutson’ offices I hear nothing back. Neither one sends out a newsletter and the only time you do see them is when there’s a disaster or a photo-op. Waltz same thing, Scott just replies with a bunch of lies that has nothing to do with what you wrote about (he asks for donations during the response too) and Rubio will reply all the time but it’s generic dribble that includes the mean ol’ Democrats.
Your call will be responded to by a loving, caring chatbot running an algorithm with cloud- based empathy which understands your concern, categorizes it, then sends the same stump speech response to everyone.
DeSantis is not protecting children, he is using them as political props.
This is just another step on the road to Facism brought to you by the right wing of the Republican party. DeSantis just like Trump wants to ignore or do away with the consttution when it gets in their way.