Miami-Dade state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez's bill was pretty darn simple: It asked the State of Florida to condemn white supremacy and white nationalism. That's it. There were no other requirements or proscriptions.
But the Republican-dominated Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee yesterday was unable to pass a resolution that blindingly simple. Instead, for bizarre and largely unexplained reasons, the committee rewrote the resolution to condemn "any philosophy that espouses the superiority of one group of people over another." The new text seems to be less offensive to some folks who might feel singled out by a resolution condemning racism, but the amendments befuddled the two Democratic lawmakers who sponsored versions of the resolution.
"I was dismayed they took 'white supremacy' out of the resolution," Rodriguez told New Times by phone last night. He missed the meeting because of a flight cancellation but said he had teamed up with Orlando state Rep. Anna Eskamani to file the resolution after a white nationalist shot 22 people to death in El Paso last year.
"We know what's causing these attacks," Rodriguez added. "I don't know why we would shy away from saying that white supremacy is what's motivating us as a legislature to act here."
When the bill, SR 214, was filed in September, it stated that "white nationalism and white supremacy are rejected and condemned as hateful expressions of intolerance which contradict the values that define the people of Florida and the United States."
That line is basically the entire resolution. By the time it reached the committee yesterday, state Sens. Janet Cruz and Linda Stewart had also signed on as cosponsors. Separately, Republican state Sen. Wilton Simpson on September 4 filed his own bill condemning white nationalism and had since gained ten Republican cosponsors. That bill was also specific: It stated that "the Florida Senate rejects white nationalism and white supremacy as hateful, dangerous, and morally corrupt; and affirms that such philosophies are contradictory to the values that define the people of Florida."
But in yesterday's committee meeting, Chair Tom Lee said the two bills were somehow too disparate to merge and said committee staff had instead written a proposed substitute. The substitute, however, does not condemn white supremacy or white nationalism by name. Instead, it states that "the Florida Senate rejects and condemns any philosophy that espouses the superiority of one group of people over another on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or religion as hateful, dangerous, and morally corrupt expressions of intolerance; and affirms that such philosophies are contradictory to the values that define the people of Florida and the United States."
From the dais, Lee said the committee staff tried to find a "bipartisan solution" that "did not elevate one group" over any other.
"We had two resolutions filed. One resolution was very specific to white nationalism and those organizations, and another resolution that was much more broadly written," Lee said.
The senator repeatedly said he was not trying to "elevate one group over another" by condemning white nationalism alone.
"We wanted to make sure we didn't single out one specific form of hate speech when we know there's things going on, from anti-Semitism in New York to incel groups in Tallahassee, and so we just didn't want to elevate anybody's status at the expense of not acknowledging that we denounce all of this," he said. "That is the spirit in which this substitute is being offered."
During public comment, the panel was subjected to an appearance from David Caulkett, a member of the anti-immigrant group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement. Caulkett's group is an offshoot of the national Federation for American Immigration Reform, which was founded by a eugenicist and is considered a hate group by numerous monitoring organizations. Caulkett called the bill "racist," "naive," and "poorly researched" and said his organization is tired of being called white supremacist.
"I'm not racist," one of them said.— Lawrence Mower (@lmower3) January 13, 2020
After little debate, the committee unanimously passed the new version of the bill that simply condemns "all hate." Rodriguez's partner in the House, Eskamani, wrote in a text that she was also baffled that such a simple resolution was watered down.
"We consider HR51/SR 214 to be the most comprehensive and intentional effort in condemning white supremacy and white nationalism, which no one can deny has been the cause of hate crimes and murders for generations, reaching a scary peak today," she wrote. "Unfortunately this committee bill takes a step back in this effort, for reasons not entirely clear to me. I am hopeful that if the legislature is at least willing to vote for this revised resolution, that they would consider updates to Florida Hate Crime statute and meaningful policies to reduce gun violence."
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.