Feb 13, 2024 - News

Florida's flag bill stalls as culture war legislation loses momentum

A large pride flag is carried during a parade in Miami Beach.

A large pride flag at a parade in Miami Beach. Photo: Getty Images

A law that would have effectively banned pride flags from government buildings and schools stalled in the Legislature last week, a sign that lawmakers may be less eager to pass anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this year than in recent years.

Why it matters: The stymied effort suggests that such issues may be losing steam in the wake of Gov. Ron DeSantis' failed presidential campaign, political observers tell Axios.

  • A desire among Floridians to focus on more "bread and butter" issues like the home insurance crisis and increasing housing prices may also be reaching more lawmakers, says University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett.

State of play: Last year, of the 22 bills Equality Florida was tracking, the substance of 17 became law, Joe Saunders, senior political director of the LGBTQ+ rights organization, tells Axios. A similar number of bills were filed this year, but many have already reached "procedural death," he says.

  • One of those, an effort to extend the state's parental rights law — commonly referred to as "Don't Say Gay" — to workplaces, appears stalled, as companion bills have yet to be heard in either chamber.

Yes, but: The lack of momentum for culture war legislation doesn't prevent the state from bypassing the lawmaking process to enact rules or regulations affecting LGBTQ+ people, Jewett tells Axios.

  • Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued a rule banning transgender people from changing the gender marker on their driver's license, sparking fear, confusion and protests among trans people across the state.
  • Before that, the state medical board jumped ahead of the Legislature to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Plus: The Florida GOP on Saturday approved its top 10 legislative priorities, with half focused on culture war issues, per Politico. "Ending rainbow flags on government buildings" was No. 3.

Zoom in: The flag bill, House Bill 901/Senate Bill 1120, was temporarily postponed last week in the Senate Governmental Oversight Committee, which is not scheduled to meet again before this year's legislative session ends March 8.

  • For a bill to move forward, it's required to move through at least one committee in both chambers.
  • The governor's support wasn't enough to save the effort, which lawmakers punted on the same day DeSantis spoke in favor of it.

What they're saying: "I believe this bill is dead," Saunders says. "But at the same time, what we say to our followers is zombies are real [and] anything is possible when there are supermajorities in both chambers."

  • "For proponents of LGBTQ rights, I wouldn't be too complacent," Jewett says.

Zoom out: A number of other so-called "culture war" bills have also stalled in Tallahassee this year, including HB 395, which would have prohibited the removal of "historical monuments and memorials." Critics call the bill an effort to protect Confederate statues.

  • During a committee meeting last week, lawmakers were met with racist comments, with one speaker alluding the removal of statues to the ongoing "culture war being waged against white society," according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
  • Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said there were "problems in perceptions among our caucus […] I'm not going to bring a bill to the floor that is so abhorrent to everybody."

Bottom line: While most of the bills are "as close to dead as a bill can be," Saunders says, lawmakers are still able to waive certain rules to move the bills forward, and the DeSantis administration can continue to enact rules through state agencies.

  • DeSantis' office did not return a request for comment.
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