Florida Bill Would Require Bloggers to Register With State Before Writing About Elected Officials

Florida State Sen. Jason Brodeur filed a bill on Tuesday that, if passed, would require bloggers to register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services before writing about elected state officials.

“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,” the bill reads.

Brodeur’s SB 1316, titled “Information Dissemination,” defines an “elected state officer” as the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet Officer, or any member of the Legislature. 

The bill specifies a blog as “a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content. The term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.”

In addition to registering with the appropriate office, the bill states, the blogger must file monthly reports stating the entity that compensated the blogger as well as the amount of compensation.

“If the compensation is for a series of blog posts or for a defined period of time,” the bill reads, “the blogger must disclose the total amount to be received upon the first blog post being published. Thereafter, the blogger must disclose the date or dates additional compensation is received, if any, for the series of blog posts.”

The report must also include the date the blog post was published as well as the website and website address where the blog post can be found.

The bill elucidates bloggers be treated similarly to lobbyists.

Each house of the Legislature and the Commission on Ethics, the bill states, will adopt by rule the “same procedure by which lobbyists are notified of the failure to timely file a report and the amount of the assessed fines.”

The bill specifies a fine of $25 per day, per report for each day late, and must be paid within 30 days of the notice being transmitted.

Brodeur did not respond to a request for comment, but told Florida Politics that paid bloggers are lobbyists who “write instead of talk.”

“They both are professional electioneers,” Brodeur said. “If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn’t paid bloggers?”

Attorney Jonah Dickstein, a member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, said though he is skeptical the bill is a good idea, he does not question the motives of the politicians proposing it.

“I think they’re trying to find solutions to a real problem,” Dickstein said. “Which I think there may already be laws that could be better used to deal with some of these situations.”

Dickstein said there are problems with any requirement for registration of people in order to practice journalism.

“For citizen journalists or smaller organizations, it has more than a chilling effect,” Dickstein said. “It absolutely has the risk of being used by authorities to shut them out completely from journalistic activity.”

Dickstein said smaller journalists are what the First Amendment “really is about.”

It is worth withholding judgment on “whether these particular legal approaches are good or bad until they’ve made their way through the legislative process,” he said.

“I think it’s worth taking the time to get these things straightened out,” Dickstein said. “And it could make sense to withhold judgment until there have been the debates and the policy adjustments before we have a finished product.”

In response to the bill’s proposal, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary, Bryan Griffin, said legislation is derived from the legislature, and in recent years, over 3,000 bills have been filed each year in Florida.

“As usual, the governor will consider the merits of a bill in final form—if, and when, it passes the legislature,” Griffin said.

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