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Fort Myers rep's monuments, flags bills could be dead; Passidomo calls one 'benign' but weaponized

A protester waving a pride flag with the Florida State Seal joined hundreds of people, including immigrants rights and abortion rights groups and members of the LGBTQ community from across the state in a rally and march, Monday, May 1, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. Parents of transgender children filed a lawsuit challenging restrictions on gender care, and U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle last month blocked a ban on the use of puberty blockers and hormones to treat children diagnosed with gender dysphoria, calling the prohibition “an exercise in politics, not good medicine.” The state is appealing Hinkle’s ruling. The lawsuit was revised Friday to add several adults as plaintiffs
John Raoux
AP file
A Fort Myers GOP state representative's two bills, one dealing with removing monuments and the other prohibiting some lags, seem to be dead for this legislative session.

TALLAHASSEE — Controversial bills aimed at preventing local governments from removing historical monuments and restricting the types of flags flown at schools and other public buildings appear to be dead in the Florida Senate.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she doesn’t expect the Senate to move forward on the monuments bill and that the flags bill is stuck in a committee that will not meet again.

The monuments bill (SB 1122) seeks to prevent removal or destruction of historical monuments from public property and has been controversial because of debate about whether it is designed to prevent removal of memorials to the Confederacy.

Passidomo last week raised questions about the future of the bill after several lawmakers voiced outrage about comments by speakers who supported the bill at a Feb. 6 committee meeting. Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, described some of the comments as “vile” and “bigoted.”

Passidomo appeared to rule out the bill Wednesday when asked by a reporter if it was dead.

“The bill itself is benign, if you read it. It’s benign,” she said. “But it has been weaponized by both sides, and that troubles me. That’s not how we run our chamber, that’s not how we pass our legislation, at least for me. And so, at this point, I don’t see that bill coming back.”

During the Feb. 6 Community Affairs Committee meeting, bill sponsor Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, argued that his proposal and intentions have been mischaracterized as racist when his goal is to protect “American monuments” he saw torn down in recent years.

“The goal is to not remove monuments,” Martin said. “It has no effect on placing new monuments anywhere in the state.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has supported efforts to prevent removal of monuments. The bill does not mention the Confederacy, but it came amid disputes in places such as Jacksonville about removing monuments to the Confederacy. A House version (HB 395) cleared its initial committee last month.

The flags bill, meanwhile, has drawn controversy as opponents contend it is designed, at least in part, to prevent display of LGBTQ pride flags. Under the bill, government agencies, public schools, colleges and universities would be prohibited from flying any flag that “represents a political viewpoint” including any “politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender, or political ideology viewpoint.”

The bill (SB 1120), also sponsored by Martin, stalled Feb. 6 in the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee. Passidomo said the committee “ran out of time” and the meeting ended as Martin worked on the monuments bill in the Community Affairs Committee.

Passidomo said Wednesday the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee will not meet again before the scheduled March 8 end of the legislative session.

“Everybody knew that that was the last committee meeting,” she said. “So I’m not going to have another committee meeting for a bill, for any bill for that matter.”

DeSantis also has supported the flags bill. A House version (HB 901) was approved by a subcommittee last month.