Florida Lawmaker Files Bill to Require Political Bloggers to Register With the State or Face Fines

A new bill from Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) would require bloggers to register with the state before writing about its elected officials or face hefty fines. Writers would be given up to five days to notify government offices if their publication mentions any executive staff member or legislature member, such as Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, or senate majority leader Ben Albritton.

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According to Senate Bill 1316, titled “Information Dissemination,” online writers who receive compensation for “an article, a story, or a series of stories,” about “the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature,” would be subject to the new restrictions. Bloggers would be required to register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics.

“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 with the appropriate office… within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.”

A blog post is described as “an individual webpage on a blog which contains an article, a story, or a series of stories.”

According to the bill’s text, upon registering with the state office, bloggers “must file monthly reports on the 10th day following the end of each calendar month from when a blog post is added to the blog,” with exceptions for weekends and holidays. The reports would need to include the total compensation received from each blog post, rounded to the nearest $10 value.

If a blogger fails to submit a report to the state, they could be fined $25 for each day late, up to a maximum of $2,500 per report.

SB 1316 would also require that bloggers file notices of “failure to file,” similar to the process lobbyists follow when filing disclosures. Fine payments will be made to the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund if the blog post concerns a member of the Florida legislature.

“Paid bloggers are lobbyists who write instead of talk,” Brodeur said about his bill in a report by Florida Politics. “They both are professional electioneers. If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn’t paid bloggers?”

While Brodeur’s bill aims to fight defamation, free speech activists say that the proposal is a massive violation of the First Amendment.

Ron Kuby, a New York-based civil rights attorney, says the bill would not hold up in court. “It’s hard to imagine a proposal that would be more violative of the First Amendment,” Kuby told NBC News. “We don’t register journalists. People who write cannot be forced to register.”

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Florida’s 60-day legislative session begins on Tuesday. After a resounding 2022 midterm victory, Republicans control a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature. If Brodeur’s proposal were to pass the legislature and receive the governor’s signature, it would enter effect immediately after becoming law, barring legal challenges.

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