Florida could expand what critics call the “Don't Say Gay” law that limits discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools under a bill the House approved Friday along party lines.
The bill, which passed on a 77-35 vote, would ban discussion on those issues through eighth grade, a year after lawmakers received national attention for banning those discussions through third grade. The bill also would prohibit school staffers or students from being required to refer to people by pronouns that don’t correspond to the person’s sex.
The measure was among several the House passed that still need Senate approval before going to Gov. Ron DeSantis, including bills that would change the start time for middle and high school students, ban sports fans from running onto a field in celebration, and require all Florida courthouses to designate private lactation places.
But the education bill that expands what Republicans call parental rights in education was easily the most debated bill of the day.
Democrats said the legislation is harmful to LGBTQ students, teachers and their families, and Republicans are trying to create fear where there doesn't need to be any.
“Teachers have literally taken bullets for their students. They do everything they can to keep them safe. They are not indoctrinating our kids. They are heroes, not villains,” said Democratic Rep. Rita Harris. “And this bill causes more of these incredible educators to leave the profession, and some of them to leave the state.
Republicans disputed that it was an anti-LGBTQ bill.
“This bill doesn’t demonize teachers, it actually liberates them. What this bill does is allow teachers to teach," said Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo.
He said teachers should focus on subjects like math and English and not be involved in decisions parents should make on teaching children about sexuality.
“This bill has nothing to do with what our children's sexual identity is. It’s not marginalizing our children’s sexual identity at all. It’s actually allowing them to be children,” he said.
Other bills passed by the House on Friday would:
— Set public school start times by 2026 as no earlier than 8 a.m. for middle school students and no earlier than 8:30 for high schools.
— Approve a ballot measure to ask voters to make school board races partisan instead of non-partisan.
— Create new penalties for fans who run onto professional and college sports fields and courts.
— Prohibit students from using school internet access to visit social media websites and require internet safety education.
— Increase the number of days a newborn can be surrendered by a parent from seven to 30 days.
— Require all Florida courts provide a private place for mothers to nurse babies or pump breast