This article could cost $37,500


Dylan Gentile, Staff Writer

A bill pushed by Rep. Alex Andrade from Florida this past month could fine writers $35,000 (plus legal fees) for calling him racist in an article. A separate bill pushed this past month by Sen. Jason Brodeur could fine writers a maximum of $2,500 for writing about Andrade’s bill as an unregistered blogger.

House Bill 991 was pushed by Andrade, who now finds fame in his legendary bill, HB 999, ending college diversity programs and gutting a handful of majors. HB 991 narrows who is considered a public figure, nullifies the use of anonymous sources, and doesn’t let the writer cite the personal beliefs of the individual as proof of racism or homophobia in defamation cases. The prosecutor can sue you for a maximum penalty of $35,000 for such accusations in articles, videos, or “online utterances.” The defendant would also be responsible for the cost of the lawsuit.

“This bill is very alarming, because it threatens one of the bedrock principles of free speech in America, which is the right to criticize government officials and other powerful figures without fear of financial or other types of retribution,” said Katie Fallow, senior counsel at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute in an article by the Tallahassee Democrat.

SB 1316, of Brodeur’s creation, would require bloggers who write about Florida politicians to be registered with the state. They must register themselves with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics within five days of the post or face fines according to the bill. Specifically the bloggers must be registered if they write about, “elected state officers,” whom the bill defines as the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature. The maximum fine for the offense of unregistered blogging would be $2,500. 

In theory, if an unregistered writer for a university press website were to place certain labels on the trend of reviews by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ former students during his days as a high school teacher, they could face a $37,500 charge if they cited his teachings about the civil war.

“Today, our nation’s protection of anonymous speech is the hope of dissidents worldwide,” said Will Creeley and Adam Steinbaugh in their article for the Foundation of Individual Rights and Expression. “Yet SB 1316 would compel Americans who exercise their right to criticize a state’s highest officials to reveal themselves to the very government they criticize.”