Florida Looks to Crack Down on Political Bloggers

Bill would force them to register like lobbyists
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 3, 2023 7:29 AM CST
Bill Would Force Political Bloggers to Register Like Lobbyists
Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur speaks during a legislative session at the Florida State Capitol, Wednesday, March 9, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Any blogger mentioning Florida's governor or a state legislator would be required to register with the state under newly proposed legislation experts say would surely violate the First Amendment. Senate Bill 1316 states any person who writes "an article, a story, or a series of stories" about "the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature," and is paid for their services must register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics within five days of publication. Authors would also need to submit monthly reports describing what posts mention officials, with links; the compensation received; and the individual or entity behind the payment—or face daily fines of $25 up to a maximum of $2,500 per report, per WFLA.

"If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register," reads the bill, per NBC News. It also requires that "bloggers file notices of failure to file a timely report the same way that lobbyists file their disclosures and reports on assessed fines," per WFLA. The legislation, to take effect immediately upon approval, excludes newspapers or similar publications. It defines a blog as "a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content"—which may or may not apply to YouTube video bloggers. The bill is authored by Jason Brodeur, a Republican state senator who's "been the subject of frequent criticism in the media," per Florida Politics.

"Paid bloggers are lobbyists who write instead of talk. They both are professional electioneers," Brodeur tells Florida Politics. "If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn't paid bloggers?" Yet "it's hard to imagine a proposal that would be more violative of the First Amendment," Ron Kuby, a First Amendment lawyer, tells NBC. Brodeur has authored other bills experts say would be unconstitutional if passed. One would prevent journalists from shielding the identity of anonymous sources if sued and automatically presume information from such sources to be false, the Orlando Sentinel reports. It "empowers the rich and powerful to basically go after people who say things they don't like," Bobby Block of the Florida First Amendment Foundation tells the outlet. (Read more Florida stories.)

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