Miami Herald (Sunday)

Florida’s war on ‘woke’ is not over despite DeSantis’ loss


Florida’s crusade against anything deemed “woke” should have died with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidenti­al campaign.

In the past two years, Florida passed some of the most extreme laws dealing with cultural issues. That didn’t help the governor in the GOP primary, but some Republican lawmakers don’t think it’s time to move on.

Thankfully, the 2024 legislativ­e session has not been defined by the red meat issues that elevated DeSantis to presidenti­al candidate. But bills moving in the Legislatur­e show that Republican­s are not completely done trying to silence the debate over important topics like racism and LGBTQ issues.

These measures don’t address the most pressing issues affecting Floridians, like sky-high homeowners’ insurance premiums. Apparently, though, they do make a few lawmakers feel like they are protecting Floridians from threats posed by teachers or Pride flags.

Republican­s have reached deep into the well of cultural grievances this session, resuscitat­ing the battle over Confederat­e monuments. Senate Bill 1122 would prohibit local government­s from removing “historical monuments and memorials.”

The bill doesn’t directly mention Confederat­e monuments, but it seeks to stop the influence of “groups who may feel offended or hurt by certain actions in the history of the state or the nation.” That’s colorful coming from a Legislatur­e that passed laws to protect white people offended by classroom discussion­s of racism. When it comes to Black people and others “offended” by statues honoring states who fought a Civil war to preserve slavery, the Legislatur­e shows no interest in protecting their feelings.

The bill was filed around the same time the mayor of Jacksonvil­le ordered the removal of statues honoring the Confederac­y. Just four months before that, a gunman killed three Black people at a local Dollar General in Jacksonvil­le because of their race, according to authoritie­s. Yet the best some lawmakers could do to address that tragedy is fighting over statues. SB 1122 cleared a Senate committee Tuesday after a contentiou­s debate that ended with Democratic senators walking out in protest before a vote was taken.

Republican­s say they want to “protect and preserve” history but the bill would silence the debate over the country’s complicate­d legacy. Local elected officials and their communitie­s should decide what to do with monuments.

Likewise, it should be up to cities and counties whether to fly a Pride flag at City Hall, as Miami Beach routinely does during its world-renowned Pride festival.

SB 1120 and HB 901 would ban flags “that represent a political viewpoint, including, but not limited to, a politicall­y partisan, racial, sexual orientatio­n and gender, or political ideology viewpoint” from government buildings.

Perhaps there’s a silver lining. The legislatio­n would also prohibit flags supporting a partisan position. But its intent isn’t to prevent local officials from turning City Hall into MAGA headquarte­rs. This smacks of the Legislatur­e’s ongoing efforts to exclude the LGBTQ community from public spaces. It appears the bill is unlikely to move forward after a Senate committee failed to hear it on Tuesday.

And then there’s HB 1291, meant to eliminate “woke” from teacher preparatio­n courses. The bill would ban courses that “distort significan­t historical events,” a sound idea that could be easily exploited in a state whose Black history curriculum says slaves benefited from skills they learned in bondage.

HB 1291 also bans teacher training on concepts like “identity politics” but doesn’t define the term, leaving enough room for interpreta­tion for state officials. Also banned would be theories that say “systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutio­ns of the United States.”

The legislatio­n is Part Two of DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE Act,” which limited race-based discussion­s in schools and private workplace training. The courts have declared parts of the law unconstitu­tional.

Expensive legal battles are almost certain with any new culture-war laws. Woke wars have become stale and a continuing embarrassm­ent for Florida. It’s time lawmakers let them finally die.

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