For Floridians who prioritize civil liberties, rights, and basic democratic freedoms seriously, the last few years have been difficult. As regular readers know, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allied legislators have been quite relentless of late, targeting voting rights, reproductive rights, the right to peaceably protest, LGBTQ rights, as well as libraries and higher education in the Sunshine State.
This does not mean, however, that things can’t get worse. NBC News reported overnight:
A Republican state senator in Florida has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require bloggers who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, his Cabinet or state legislators to register with the state. Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill, titled “Information Dissemination,” would also require bloggers to disclose who’s paying them for their posts about certain elected officials and how much.
“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 five days of the post, the legislation says.
As NBC News’ report added, the measure defines “elected state officer” as “the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.”
Those who failed to comply could face thousands of dollars in state penalties.
If this approach sounds at all familiar, it might be because Vladimir Putin signed a similar measure — known as the “bloggers law” — in 2014, requiring online writers to register with the Russian government.
At this point, I know what some of you are thinking. “Sure, Steve, this bill exists, and it’s going to generate some attention,” you’re saying to your screen. “But as I’ve seen in several MaddowBlog posts over the years, it’s best not to take these absurd proposals too seriously because they don’t pass and become law.”
And if that is what you’re saying, you certainly have a point. Every year, all kinds of utterly bonkers proposals are introduced in state capitols from coast to coast, and many of them receive national attention — shortly before they wither on the legislative vine. These bills are often offensive, but they’re not genuine threats.
So why take note of the “Information Dissemination” measure in Florida? For one thing, it’s worth pausing to appreciate the unnerving fact that we can no longer say with confidence which ideas fall into the too-nutty-to-become-law-in-Florida-in-2023 bucket. I’m all for shrugging off ridiculous bills that stand no realistic chance of success, but given the state of Republican politics, it’s become far more difficult to make such assessments reliably.
For another, legislation like this serves as a timely reminder of how too many GOP officials have an unhealthy perspective as it relates to the First Amendment and a free press.
Let’s also not brush past the astonishing fact that if this bill were to become law, blogs in Florida would face more state regulations than assault rifles.
But there is a silver lining to this cloud: If the “Information Dissemination” legislation were to somehow reach the governor’s desk and become law, it would face immediate lawsuits, which would almost certainly succeed.
Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”