By RYAN DAILEY
News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House this week passed a bill that would prevent minors under age 16 from having social media accounts — but Gov. Ron DeSantis indicated he might want to see some changes.
House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican who has made the bill a top priority, and other supporters say social media harms children’s mental health and can be used by sexual predators to communicate with minors.
“This is about protecting children from addictive technology and what we know harms them,” Renner told House members after the bill passed Wednesday in a 106-13 vote. “And what the social-media platforms know. For years, they have known this and they have failed to act. By your vote today, we have done so.”
The measure (HB 1) would prevent minors under 16 from creating accounts and would require social-media platforms to terminate existing accounts that are “reasonably known” by the platforms to be held by people younger than 16. It also would allow parents to request that minors’ accounts be terminated.
Platforms would be required to use independent organizations to conduct age verifications when new accounts are created and would require denial of accounts for people who do not verify their ages.
Opponents have argued the bill would take away the rights of parents to determine whether their children use social media. Also, they have contended that the bill would violate the First Amendment.
During an appearance Friday in Kissimmee about an unrelated issue, DeSantis also pointed to concerns about legal issues with the proposal.
“I am sympathetic, as a parent, to what is going on with our youth,” DeSantis said. “But I also understand that to just say that someone who is 15 just cannot have it no matter what, even if the parent consents, that may create some legal issues.”
DeSantis said the bill “likely is going to evolve” in the Legislature. “We’ll see if we get a product that is going to be good, but I am concerned about the breadth of it,” he said.
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, on Thursday backed the proposal and said the Senate would start moving forward with it.
“I support the concept, I support the bill,” Passidomo told reporters. “The speaker is so passionate about the issue. My conversations with him, you know he has two little kids, and his concerns are valid. So we’re going to take up the bill. I don’t know if members (senators) are going to suggest proposed changes. If they do, I’m certainly going to discuss it with the speaker. It’s his initiative, and I support it fully.”
It was not immediately clear when Senate committees would take up the issue, though it could come after the Senate addresses budget issues next week.
GUARD ON THE GO?
The Florida State Guard, revived by DeSantis in 2022, could operate outside Florida and be called into service anytime he “deemed necessary,” under a bill that started moving forward this week in the House.
The State Guard was initially set up during World War II to replace Florida National Guard members who were deployed abroad. It became inactive in 1947, before being brought back two years ago.
The State Guard was expanded from up to 400 members to 1,500 members last year. Lawmakers also increased its funding from $10 million to $107.6 million, including covering the costs of five aircraft and boats.
On Thursday, the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee voted 11-3 to support a bill (HB 1551) that would remove part of a law that keeps the State Guard’s activities only in the state.
Bill sponsor Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, described the bill’s proposed changes, which also include lessening training requirements, as “technical.”
The bill would clarify that the State Guard can be deployed to other states under an existing Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which lets states share resources during natural and man-made disasters.
Rep. Dan Daley, a Coral Springs Democrat who voted against the bill, said there is a “year-after-year creep” in the size and duties of the State Guard.
“The Florida State Guard was sold to the Legislature with one thing in mind, to be an auxiliary, to be a support system, to direct traffic, to do things that national guardsmen, who are already overworked and understaffed, do,” Daley said.
The governor’s office in June issued a news release announcing the State Guard’s first graduating class of more than 100 members. DeSantis has requested an additional $57 million for the State Guard next fiscal year.
WHAT’S THE PLAN?
The House and Senate on Friday released initial budget proposals for the 2024-2025 fiscal year that topped $115 billion. They will tinker with the proposals next week and ultimately negotiate a final spending plan before the legislative session ends in March.
The Senate, for example, wants to spend $100 million a year for 30 years on prison construction and infrastructure-repair projects. Meanwhile, lawmakers don’t appear to be ready to give DeSantis as much money as he wants for tourism marketing and an economic-development program known as the Job Growth Grant Fund.
House Speaker Paul Renner, appearing Wednesday before the state university system’s Board of Governors, pointed to a “pretty tight” budget as the state moves beyond “never-ending revenues and money coming down from the federal government” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The Florida House passed a bill that would prevent minors under age 16 from having social media accounts — but the measure drew questions from Gov. Ron DeSantis.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “My hope is that, through this license plate and through this road, his music and his books and his families and his hotels and everything else, that he will continue to inspire us to see the good side and live life like a song.” — Savannah Buffett, daughter of the late Jimmy Buffett, on proposals that would name a stretch of highway for the singer and create a “Margaritaville” specialty license plate.