TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Jason Brodeur, a state senator from Sanford, has filed a bill that would require independent bloggers to register themselves with the state government if they write about certain major state officials, including Ron DeSantis. The bill has been categorized by constitutional experts as one of the most pervasive proposed regulations on the media in the history of the United States.
The bill is SB 1316, titled 'Information Dissemination'. It defines a blog as 'a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content'. It includes an exception for web versions of print newspapers 'or any similar publication', leaving the website of TV news stations, radio news stations, or online-only publications in somewhat of a gray area.
If passed, the bill would mandate that bloggers disclose any writings that they're being paid for with the Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics. The blog would qualify if it mentions the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, a cabinet member, or any legislator. Those who don't comply with the policy would be fined up to $2,500.
Brodeur himself suffered poor optics after various local and state news organizations reported he'd been implicated in a 'ghost candidate' scheme, in which a candidate found to be fraudulent was likely dispatched to affect the results of a state legislature election. Brodeur himself would've been the benefactor of the candidacy of Jestine Iannotti, an Independent who did no campaigning and may have siphoned votes from Democrat Patricia Sigman.
Though he has denied involvement, former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg has testified that Brodeur was aware. He stepped down as president of the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce in December, after charges were brought against Greenberg, Iannotti, consultant Eric Foglesong, and Seminole GOP Chair Ben Paris. Paris worked under Brodeur at the Seminole Chamber.
At the state level, Brodeur's legislation comes as part of a wider push by Governor Ron DeSantis against the news media. DeSantis is also pushing to make it easier to sue news outlets for defamation. The 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan established that candidates or elected officials had to prove intentional defamation and 'actual malice' in court. If a new bill backed by DeSantis became law, the standard would become lower.
Overall, Brodeur's bill is considered unlikely to pass the legislature and the courts - many constitutional lawyers argue it runs afoul of the First Amendment's freedom of the press provision.
A spokesman for Governor Ron DeSantis's office stated Friday afternoon that their communications office is still reviewing the bill before taking a hard stance.