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
       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
       (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
       (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.

Update: This bill died in committee. This year, anyway. We probably need to be on the lookout for this thing in future sessions.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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