What Florida’s Laws Really Mean

Understanding the purpose and the opposing viewpoints of divisive legislation in the state helps inform discussions of the controversies.

Florida State Capitol Building
Florida State Capitol Building. Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov for Adobe Stock

Many proponents of Florida’s controversial legislation initiatives believe the measures have been mischaracterized by opponents as discriminatory. Following is a summary with links to the laws as written, followed by supporter analysis as well as the reasons for opposition.

HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education 

Passed into law on July 1, 2022; amended April 19, 2023 

Purpose: Per the Florida State Senate’s analysis, this measure specifies how a parent’s fundamental right to make decisions regarding the care and upbringing of his or her child must be addressed in the public school setting. It requires that school districts adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being. The law originally prohibited instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3. An amendment passed in April 2023 extended those guidelines through 12th grade. It also prohibits teaching of critical race theory to in schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Supporting view: Advocates say these measures ensure that parents have control over what their students learn in school and allow parents and families to discuss sex and gender identity with their children when and how they deem appropriate.

Opposing view: Opponents refer to HB 1557 as the “Don’t Say Gay” act. The ACLU of Florida considers it a government censorship measure that bans discussions related to sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Per the organization’s analysis, the law "silences students from speaking about their own sexual identity or talking about LGBTQ+ family members, friends and public figures. It also bars LGBTQ+ students from talking about their own lives, experiences and families, and in that sense denies their very existence."

HB7: Individual Freedom Act

Effective: July 1, 2022

Purpose: Also known as the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act (Stop W.O.K.E.), this act prohibits teaching — either in schools or workplaces — that individuals share responsibility for others' past actions by virtue of their race, sex or national origin. A district court judge issued a temporary injunction in November 2022 preventing the law from being enforced in higher education.

Supporting view: This legislation gives businesses, employees, children and families tools to fight back against "woke indoctrination." "In Florida, we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory," said Gov. Ron DeSantis in announcing the measure in December 2021. "We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other.... We must protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired 'training' and indoctrination."

Opposing view: The law specifically restricts educators’ ability to teach and discuss concepts around the legacy of slavery in America, white privilege and anti-racism. The Legal Defense Fund argues the law is intended to "prevent educators from teaching or even expressing viewpoints on race, racism or gender that are disfavored by Florida lawmakers, even where those viewpoints are widely accepted and considered foundational information in their academic disciplines."

SB 1718: Immigration

Effective: July 1, 2023

Purpose: Passed on May 10, 2023, and now called Chapter 2023-40; this legislation imposes strict penalties for employing or assisting undocumented immigrants. It prohibits local governments from issuing Identification Cards (ID) to unauthorized immigrants, invalidates ID cards issued in other states, and requires hospitals to collect and submit data on the costs of providing health care to undocumented immigrants. Employers with 25 or more employees are required to use E-Verify and are subject to enforceable penalties for employing those who cannot provide proof of lawful presence in the United States.

Supporting view: This legislation will combat dangerous effects of illegal immigration caused by the federal government’s border policies. It will provide more jobs for legal citizens by criminalizing the hiring of undocumented immigrants, and provides $12 million to continue the transport of undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities.

Opposing view: This law criminalizes Floridians who shelter, support and provide transportation to undocumented immigrants, including those who have lived in Florida for decades and have U.S.-born children. It makes it harder for immigrants to provide for their families, harms businesses by authorizing random checks to ensure compliance, and discourages those who are ill from seeking medical assistance. "The worst part about this bill is the impact to migrant children and those whose help them," said Senator Victor Torres (D-Orlando). "We’re going to start locking up pastors, first responders and health-care workers, who will now be subject to criminal penalties for their humanitarian assistance. [We need] a better solution that doesn’t belittle an entire group of people who are searching for a better quality of life and who support our state’s economy."

SB 300: Heartbeat Protection Act

Effective: April 3, 2023

Purpose: This state law makes abortion after 6 weeks illegal except for cases of rape, incest, human trafficking, a fatal fetal abnormality diagnosis, or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. It prevents state funds from being used to support entities that provide abortion or to help a pregnant woman travel to another state to receive an abortion, and outlaws the delivery of abortion pills through the mail.

Supporting view: SB 300 promotes healthy families and supports parents who choose life for their babies by providing additional counseling or mentoring services as well as providing nonmedical material assistance to families such as car seats, cribs, clothing, formula and diapers. It adds $30 million to the state budget for the support of pregnant women and families.

Opposing view: This measure prohibits pregnant people from accessing safe and legal abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and criminalizes medical professionals who provide such care. Per the ACLU of Florida, it directly violates women’s rights to bodily autonomy and will virtually eliminate legal abortion care in Florida. About one-third of women don’t know they are pregnant until after 6 weeks, and those who do know are very unlikely to be able schedule two in-person doctor’s appointments before six weeks of pregnancy, as required by law.