What does Florida have against bloggers?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves these days.

Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) wants bloggers who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and other members of the Florida executive cabinet or legislature to register with the state or face fines.

Brodeur’s proposal, Senate Bill 1316: Information Dissemination, would require any blogger writing about government officials to register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics.

In the bill, Brodeur wrote that those who write “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 receives or will receive payment for doing so, must register with state offices within five days after the publication of an article that mentions an elected state official.

If another blog post is added to a blog, the blogger would then be required to submit monthly reports on the 10th of each month with the appropriate state office. They would not have to submit a report on months when no content is published.

For blog posts that “concern an elected member of the legislature” or “an officer of the executive branch,” monthly reports must disclose the amount of compensation received for the coverage, rounded to the nearest $10 value.

If compensation is paid for a series of posts or for a specific amount of time, the blogger would be required to disclose the total amount to be received, upon publication of the first post in said series or timeframe.

Additional compensation must be disclosed later on.

Failure to file these disclosures or register with state officials, if the bill passes, would lead to daily fines for the bloggers, with a maximum amount per report, not per writer, of $2,500. The per-day fine is $25 per report for each day it’s late.

The bill 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. Fines must be paid within 30 days of payment notice, unless an appeal is filed with the appropriate office. Fine payments must be deposited into the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund if it concerns an elected member of the legislature.

For writing about members of the executive branch, fines would be made payable to the Executive Branch Lobby Registration Trust Fund or, if it concerns both groups, the fine may be paid to both related trust funds in equal amounts.

Explicitly, the blogger rule would not apply to newspapers or similar publications, under Brodeur’s proposed legislation.

I’ll save everyone the trouble: I get no compensation for any of this. I don’t know if that will keep me off of Florida’s “Ten Most Wanted” list someday, but it’s what I’ve got.

But honestly, bloggers? Doesn’t this guy know that blogging peaked in, like, 2008? Anybody who is anybody is on Twitter or TikTok or Substack these days. Does Substack count as blogging for these purposes? You can see what a mess this is. Also, how delicate a snowflake must Ron DeSantis be if he needs to have his feelings protected from the likes of me? Maybe the author of this bill should see about adding a budget item for warm milk and an official gubernatorial binkie.

We make lame jokes in the face of looming authoritarianism as defense mechanisms. There is another option.

The blogger bill is one of two Brodeur introduced this week targeting the media. The second would make it much easier to sue journalists for defamation—a priority for DeSantis. That bill would create the presumption that information from anonymous sources is false, the Orlando Sentinel reports. It would also limit journalists’ ability to protect the identity of anonymous sources. Hungary’s 2011 media law also tried to make it harder for reporters’ to protect their sources.

The Florida legislation is a slightly less severe version of a House bill introduced by Andrade. The House bill would allow people to successfully sue for defamation even when they are accurately accused of discrimination. Normally, truth is an absolute defense in defamation suits. But under Andrade’s bill it would be illegal to cite a plaintiff’s “scientific beliefs” or religious beliefs in defamation suits related to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. “If the House bill is a horrendous, horrendous bill, the Senate bill is [just] a horrendous bill,” Bobby Block, executive director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, told the Sentinel.

The defamation bills mirror a proposal pushed last year by Stephanie Kopelousos, DeSantis’ legislative affairs director. No bill ended up being filed in 2022, but DeSantis didn’t give up. In February, he hosted a roundtable with critics of US media law while sitting in front of a digital banner that read “Truth.” The focus of the discussion was what his office called “Legacy Media Defamation Practices.” By the end of the month, DeSantis had the legislation he wanted. It was all quite Orbán-esque.

If passed, the defamation bills would almost certainly be challenged in court. In lower courts, opponents of the law would have a strong case under existing precedents. But as Kopelousos explained in documents obtained by the Sentinel, the long-term goal is to get the conservative Supreme Court to overturn the protections established for journalists in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which makes it difficult for public figures to successfully sue for defamation.

Electing fewer dims store dictators would also be an option. In the meantime, I hope there aren’t any similar bills being filed in Austin.

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