The New Abnormal: Florida Wants to Muzzle Bloggers
The stupidest thing I will read today, and likely for some time to come, is the text of 2023 Florida Senate Bill SB 1316, Section 3. Section 286.31. It also stands in as excellent example of why ‘fascism’ is exactly the right term for the political trend in Florida these days.
Have a look.
Section 3. Section 286.31, Florida Statutes, is created to read: 286.31 Blogger registration and reporting.— (1) As used in this section, the term: (a) “Blog” means a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content. The term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication. (b) “Blogger” means any person as defined in s. 1.01(3) that submits a blog post to a blog which is subsequently published. (c) “Blog post” is an individual webpage on a blog which contains an article, a story, or a series of stories. (d) “Compensation” includes anything of value provided to a blogger in exchange for a blog post or series of blog posts. If not provided in currency, it must be the fair-market value of the item or service exchanged. (e) “Elected state officer” means the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature. (f) “Office” means, in the context of a blog post about a member of the Legislature, the Office of Legislative Services or, in the context of a blog post about a member of the executive branch, the Commission on Ethics, as applicable. (2) If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer. (3)(a) Upon registering with the appropriate office, a blogger must file monthly reports on the 10th day following the end of each calendar month from the time a blog post is added to the blog, except that, if the 10th day following the end of a calendar month occurs on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the report must be filed on the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday. (b) If the blogger does not have a blog post on a blog during a given month, the monthly report for that month does not need to be filed. (c) The blogger must file reports with the appropriate office using the electronic filing system: 1. As provided in s. 11.0455 if the blog post concerns an elected member of the Legislature; or 2. As provided in s. 112.32155 if the blog post concerns an officer of the executive branch. (d) The reports must include all of the following: 1. The individual or entity that compensated the blogger for the blog post. 2. The amount of compensation received from the individual or entity, regardless of how the compensation was structured. a. The amount must be rounded to the nearest $10 increment. b. If the compensation is for a series of blog posts or for a defined period of time, the blogger must disclose the total amount to be received upon the first blog post being published. Thereafter, the blogger must disclose the date or dates additional compensation is received, if any, for the series of blog posts. 3. The date the blog post was published. If the blog post is part of a series, the date each blog post is published must be included in the applicable report. 4. The website and website address where the blog post can be found. (4) Notwithstanding any other law, a magistrate is authorized to enter a final order in determination of the reasonableness of circumstances for an untimely filing of a required report and the amount of a fine, if any. (5) Each house of the Legislature and the Commission on Ethics shall adopt by rule, for application to bloggers, the same procedure by which lobbyists are notified of the failure to timely file a report and the amount of the assessed fines. The rule must also provide for, but need not be limited to, the following provisions: (a) A fine of $25 per day per report for each day late, not to exceed $2,500 per report. (b) Upon receipt of an untimely filed report, the amount of the fine must be based upon the earlier of the following: 1. The date and time that the untimely report is actually received by the office. 2. The date and time on the electronic receipt issued pursuant to s. 11.0455 or s. 112.32155. (c) The fine must be paid within 30 days after the notice of payment due is transmitted, unless an appeal is filed with the office. The fine amount must be deposited into: 1. If the report in question relates to a post about a member of the Legislature, the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund; 2. If the report in question relates to a post about a member of the executive branch, the Executive Branch Lobby Registration Trust Fund; or 3. If the report in question relates to a post about members of both the Legislature and the executive branch, the lobbyist registration trust funds identified in subparagraphs 1. and 2., in equal amounts. (d) A fine may not be assessed against a blogger the first time a report for which the blogger is responsible is not timely filed. However, to receive this one-time fine waiver, all untimely filed reports for which the blogger remains responsible for filing must be filed with the office within 30 days after the notice of untimely filing was transmitted to the blogger. A fine must be assessed for any subsequent late-filed reports. (e) The blogger is entitled to appeal a fine, based upon reasonable circumstances surrounding the failure to file by the designated date, by making a written request to the office for a hearing before the magistrate from the Second Judicial Circuit. Any such request must be made within 30 days after the notice of payment due is transmitted to the blogger. The office shall transmit all such timely, written requests to the chief judge of the Second Judicial Circuit along with the evidence the office relied on in assessing the fine. The magistrate, after holding a hearing, shall render a final order, upholding the fine or waiving it in full or in part. (f) A blogger may request that the filing of a report be waived upon good cause shown based on reasonable circumstances. The request must be filed with the office, which may grant or deny the request. (g) Fines that remain unpaid for a period in excess of 100 days after final determination are eligible for recovery through the courts of this state. Section 4. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.
State Senator Jason Brodeur is the person who has introduced this bill. It appears that Brodeur benefitted from a ploy to put a candidate name on the ballot for a ‘progressive’ in his race. Brodeur narrowly edged out the Democratic candidate in that one. This bill makes it look like Brodeur read up on SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) lawsuits and got the bright idea that, “Hey, I could write a SLAPP where the ‘L’ stands for ‘Law’!” There’s no public benefit here; bloggers making comments on politicians who get paid for that commentary are usually pretty transparent about where they are coming from. The proposed law appears to me to serve only two purposes: (1) reduce the number of critical blog posts about Florida elected officials and (2) collect data on funding sources for critical bloggers so that the state has that information to do something something, yeah, don’t say it explicitly in the statute, but, heck, look what we did to *Disney* over making a difference of opinion known. If Florida is willing to hit up mega-corporation Disney, what do you think they’d stick at when it comes to any other entity they find out is not entirely on board with the new Florida Fascism Facade? Certainly, Brodeur and cronies might say that there is nothing in the statute that would require a reduction in critical blog posts, but anyone looking at the potential fines and the mandated public burden in regulatory overhead may well think twice about naming any specific Florida elected official. I’d rank this chilling effect as the likely main intended consequence should this malodorous dreck become law. Notice also that this law doesn’t limit where ‘offices’ from the State of Florida might send notices and fines; this is looking to ‘cover the world’ with a blogger gag.
Conservatives mouth a lot of platitudes about First Amendment free speech rights. Here we have a GOP state senator setting out to add a lot of onerous regulation and reporting to the generic category of “blogger”, and do we hear anything from his colleagues on the right taking him to task for this? I have not so far.
This article is freely entered into the public domain, and no one paid me a dime (or gave me its equivalent fair market value) for writing it. If you comment on Florida, you’d best get used to including an explicit disclaimer like this in your blog posts, too, assuming the estimable Sen. Brodeur gets his way.