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PEN America Florida’s Legislative Priorities 2024

Florida lawmakers returned to Tallahassee in January for the 2024 legislative session. They have introduced a string of bills that would unfavorably impact free speech and free expression, freedom of the press, young people’s use of social media and LGBTQ+ rights.

Taken together, these bills would further undermine basic Constitutional rights, a trend that PEN America is fighting in federal court through its lawsuit on book bans against Escambia County. The bills PEN America is tracking this legislative session and our critical perspective on each follows:


HB 1: Social Media Use for Minors, HB 3: Online Access of Materials Harmful to Minors, Senate Amendment and SB 1788: Age Verification for Social Media Platforms

HB 1, HB 3 and its Senate Amendment, and SB 1788 are all bills that pose or have posed significant First Amendment concerns and run counter to an open Internet, free from government surveillance and censorship, which is critical to modern freedom of expression.

HB 1 would ban Floridians under the age of 16 from creating a new account on a social media platform, and require the termination of preexisting accounts held by this age group.

PEN America opposes this bill on the grounds that it is not tailored to minimize the potential harm that minors may encounter on social media, but instead bans them from accessing publicly disseminated and constitutionally protected speech. While the state has an interest in protecting minors from harm, minors also enjoy First Amendment rights, and only under specific and well-defined circumstances should the state limit their access to information. HB 1 was vetoed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 1, 2024.

HB 3 reuses much of the same language of HB 1, and would ban Floridians under the age of 14 from having social media accounts. The Senate Amendment to HB 3 requires parental consent for users “14 or 15 years of age.”

PEN America, alongside a nonpartisan coalition, opposes this bill and the Senate Amendment because these minor changes do not cure the constitutional failures inherent in HB 1, the bill that these measures were derived from.

PEN America has also submitted opposition to SB 1788: Age Verification for Social Media Platforms. This bill mirrors much of the language in HB 1 and also seeks to bar all minors under 16 from social media sites.


HB 757/SB 1780: Defamation, False Light, and Unauthorized Publication of Name or Likenesses

PEN America opposes HB 757 and its counterpart in the Senate, SB 1780. Both threaten to undermine freedom of the press and open the door for a torrent of litigation for punitive damages against news outlets and journalists. These bills attempt to instill fear in journalists and their sources by creating a “rebuttable presumption” that the news outlet acted with “actual malice”—a legal term of art for the current standard of defamation suits by public figures—if any of the content published has “relied on an anonymous source for the statement.“

PEN has also submitted it’s opposition to SB 1780, which goes even further than HB 757, decimating the journalist’s privilege to protect sources, creating increased liability for the content of speech (such as potential damages for allegations that a government official discriminated on the basis of race or sex), and including other infringements on the free press. PEN America opposes HB 757 and SB 1780 because they would undermine free speech and freedom of the press by threatening long-standing protections afforded to journalists. If passed, both bills risk chilling publicly protected speech that is critical of politicians, public officials, and government actors, contrary to the principles of the First Amendment.

PEN America has also collaborated with a nonpartisan coalition to publish additional letters in opposition to both HB 757 and SB 1780.


HB 901 – Display of Flags by Governmental Entities

HB 901 states that a “governmental entity”—explicitly naming public schools, colleges, and universities as examples—may not display a flag that represents a “political viewpoint, including, but not limited to, a politically partisan, racial, sexual orientation and gender.”

PEN America opposes the bill for explicitly targeting racial and LGBTQ+ identities and symbols, its overly-vague messaging, and its likely infringement on Floridians’ First Amendment rights. Notably, while HB 901 makes an exception for private individuals expressing private speech, the lines between public and private speech are often blurred at public colleges and universities, and the bill includes no guidance that clarifies the distinction. As it is, HB 901 risks chilling the speech of Floridians of color and LGBTQ+ individuals at these institutions.


SB 1372 – Educator Preparation Programs

SB 1372 states that instruction in teacher preparation program courses may not “include a curriculum or instruction that teaches identity politics,” or instruction that is “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.”

PEN America opposes SB 1372 because it would result in viewpoint discrimination contrary to free speech and expression. SB 1372 incorporates elements of the “Stop WOKE Act” (HB 7 2022)—which is currently enjoined in higher education—and fails to define the “identity politics” that it forbids. SB 1372 runs contrary to the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom, chilling speech across the Florida public education system as part of the larger trend to instill censorship in Florida’s public schools.

PEN America also collaborated with a nonpartisan coalition of over 20 statewide and nationwide partners to publish a letter in opposition to SB 1372 and its counterpart in the House of Representatives.


SB 470: Postsecondary Education Students

SB 470 would deprive any student that “promotes” a federally recognized foreign terrorist organization of their in-state tuition and state financial aid, without defining what it means to “promote” such an organization. Stakes are even higher for students with F-1 visas, who would be reported to the Department of Homeland Security if their speech is interpreted as “promotion.”

PEN America opposes SB 470 because of its failure to define what it means to “promote” terrorism or distinguish it from protected forms of speech, which runs contrary to the First Amendment. Individual school administrators and staff would be the ones determining what counts as “promotion” of a foreign terrorist organization, which risks the undue chilling of speech.