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New Florida to Label Racism and Homophobic Allegations as Defamation

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By Abi Gibson - - 5 Mins Read
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Photo | Tingey Injury Law Firm

Florida State Senator Jason Brodeur (R) has proposed a bill that aims to remove specific privileges from journalists in the state, such as the ability to maintain the anonymity of sources.


Additionally, the bill would classify allegations of racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia as defamatory, irrespective of whether they are based on a person's scientific or religious convictions.


On Friday, a bill known as SB 1780 was introduced, which makes it easier for someone to sue another person for defamation, false light, or unauthorized use of one's name or likeness.


As per the measure, if the plaintiff is accused of discrimination against an individual or a group based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, it is considered defamation per se. This implies that such accusations are defamatory, even if they are untrue.


If SB 1780 is passed, individuals in these situations will not be required to demonstrate "actual malice," which was the benchmark established for defamation lawsuits after the ruling in the New York Times v. Sullivan case by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964.


Furthermore, the proposed legislation would simplify establishing the circumstances for a fact-finder to deduce that actual malice occurred following an allegation of discrimination.


Defendants facing allegations of homophobia or transphobia cannot cite the plaintiff's religious or scientific convictions as a defence in defamation cases. Violators of this rule may be fined at least $35,000 if found guilty of defamation.


This bill is similar to HB 757 in the Florida House. If passed, it will significantly restrict the definition of a "public figure" in cases of defamation.


The bill proposes to exclude public employees who were not elected or appointed, as well as individuals who gained notoriety by publicly defending themselves against allegations, giving interviews, or being featured in a viral "video, image, or statement uploaded on the Internet." This bill will also apply to statements made in print, on television, and on social media.


The proposed legislation resembles a bill put forth by state Representative Robert Andrade (R) in the previous year. Although the Civil Justice subcommittee approved it, it ultimately failed to pass the Judiciary Committee.


Nevertheless, Reed cautions that the bill should be monitored closely for any indications of potential approval this year in light of Florida's track record of enacting increasingly discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ+ community, such as the recent expansion of the "Don't Say Gay or Trans" policy in the state.


During the previous year, Brodeur proposed SB 1316, a bill that aimed to limit press freedoms in the state. Under this bill, bloggers who were paid to write about elected officials, such as Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), his administration, and the state legislature, would have been required to register with the state government. 


Additionally, these writers would have had to self-report every time they wrote a story about Florida lawmakers, including details about their compensation and the source of their payment.


Failure to comply with these requirements within five days of publication would have resulted in a daily fine of $25, with a maximum penalty of $2,500 for non-compliance.


This legislation eliminates particular benefits granted to journalists and media organizations, specifically the privilege of maintaining anonymity for their sources. 

Per the proposed legislation, journalists would be susceptible to lawsuits if they rely on statements made by anonymous sources, which would be deemed "likely untrue."