House of Reps Postsecondary Education and Workforce Subcommittee votes in favor of House Bill 999

Over 150 people requested to speak at the hearing regarding House Bill 999.


Eston Parker III

The entrance to the Breezeway at FAU. Photo by Eston Parker III.

Savannah Peifer, Editor-in-Chief

The Florida House Postsecondary Education and Workforce Subcommittee voted in favor of House Bill 999 in a meeting held March 13, paving the way for the Senate and House of Representatives to possibly approve the bill later during the 60 day legislative session.

Rep. Alex Andrade (R) proposed the bill, which would eliminate the teaching of gender and sexuality studies, as well as critical race theory. After its approval from the subcommittee it will be brought before the Senate and House of Reps for voting. 

Over 150 individuals requested to present their opinions to the subcommittee, however not all attended the meeting. Students, law organizations, professors, parents, and others traveled from cities around Florida in hopes of convincing the committee to vote against the bill.

Subcommittee questioning 

The meeting opened with a synopsis of the bill provided by the bill sponsor, Andrade, followed by questioning from the committee. 

Rep. Yvonne Hinson (D) questioned government interest in controlling what courses students can take in higher education. 

Andrade responded arguing the government has interest in ensuring students are best prepared to enter the workforce. 

“The state has an interest in making sure students coming out of high school and coming out of college are fully informed about the courses they can take to upskill and become better placed in the careers they so choose,” Andrade said.

Andrade said it is the university and Board of Governors’ responsibility to define what courses and degree paths fall within critical race theory or gender and sexuality studies. 

Hinson pushed Andrade to elaborate on what campus events were in danger of being removed under the bill. Andrade explained the bill will only impact faculty or university held events, not student organization events. 

She felt a lack of clarity within the bill and asked for how it affects different student groups. 

“How does this impact Black student unions, pride centers, multicultural student centers, and multi-faith advisory boards?” Hinson asked. “These aren’t student activities, they are centers,” she said. 

Andrade responded explaining the bill affects university paid staff, not students. 

Rep. Allison Tant (D), a Florida State University (FSU) alum, was concerned with the impact the bill may have on academic research. She specifically referenced FSU’s creation of the breast cancer treatment drug, Taxol.  

“The bill does a great deal to support the idea universities are supposed to be researching,” replied Andrade. 

Rep. Lindsay Cross (D) asked Andrade to clarify how this bill would affect the accreditation of Florida universities. Andrade said he had no knowledge of the bill impacting accreditation, and if it did, universities would have to find a different avenue to maintain accreditation. 

When opened for follow up questions, Hinson proceeded to question the constitutionality of the bill. 

“The Fifth Amendment has an explicit requirement that the federal government not deprive individuals of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law,” she said. “An explicit guarantee that each person receives equal protection of the laws. Every state is supposed to protect their citizens under the Equal Protection Law Clause. This bill violates that law.”

Andrade responded by explaining the government needs to strengthen civics lessons because Hinson was referring to the 10th and 14th Amendment, not the Fifth. He argued the questions on what the state legislature can implement is a different aspect than is protected by the amendments. 

Proposed Amendments 

Rep. Angela Nixon (D) proposed a change to HB 999 to protect the use of student fees and the reservation of rooms for multicultural and minority based groups. 

She claimed the amendment is “providing students of all backgrounds the programs that serve their needs, that they themselves have created in many cases, should be prioritized not politicized.” 

Andrade opposed the amendment claiming it would completely alter the way the bill would be implemented. 

In her closing, Nixon urged the subcommittee to understand the possible consequences of the implementation of HB 999. 

“I’m concerned about the chilling effect this bill could have on faculty advisors and topics these organizations might bring to campus,”she said. “In a time where Florida’s education system, especially higher education, has been made so politically charged and polarized by folks, it’s our students and faculty that must live with the consequences and the fear that they will be denied their first amendment freedoms if they like to bring speakers or participate in the activities that interest them.”

The subcommittee did not receive public comment on the amendment and voted against the adoption of the amendment.

Rep. Anna Eskamani (D), a graduate of the women’s and gender studies program at UCF, also proposed an amendment to the bill. Her amendment would remove any language referring to the curriculum. She claimed there was extensive Supreme Court precedent against the bill. 

“We have 60 years of Supreme Court case law forbidding the government from inserting or imposing orthodoxy over the collegial environment,” she said. 

Joseph Cohen, legislative and policy director for a campus rights advocacy group called The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), defended Eskamani’s statement during public comment. 

“There is a long line of uninterrupted cause law that states when you start inviting the government to dictate what speech happens on college campuses that it’s unconstitutional,” Cohen said. 

He then challenged the subcommittee and legislature to pass the bill, saying it will be detrimental to their finances. 

“You can double down but that will cost you a lot more in attorneys fees, which you’ll be paying to us,” he said. 

The committee did not adopt Eskamani’s amendment. 

Carolina Amnesty (R), Mike Beltran (R), Kimberly Berfield (R), Tiffany Esposito (R), Karen Gonzalez Pittman (R), Fred Hawkins, (R), Vicki Lopez (R), Susan Plasencia (R), Joel Rudman (R), Jason Shoaf (R), John Temple (R), and Lauren Melo (R), all voted against the amendment. 

Lindsay Cross (D), Lisa Dunkley (D), Anna Eskamani (D), and Allison Tant (D) voted in support of the amendment. 

Public Testimony

The subcommittee limited guests to 30 seconds to speak because of the amount of requests. 

Representatives for Miami-Dade college, Rollins College, New College of Florida, USF, UCF, FSU, UNF, FAMU, and FIU showed their opposition for the bill, but no speakers identified themselves as FAU representatives. 

“I could say substantive stuff to you, but I watched you do it last year and I’m watching you do it again. If I am this bad at my job, I get fired. I don’t know why you’re still here, thank you for eroding at our freedoms,” said visibly angry Altamonte Springs resident Adam Reilly.

Laney Dorris, a social work student at UCF opposed the bill. Explaining social workers are taught with a core value of understanding DEI. She claimed the implementation of the bill will dismantle social work accreditation throughout the state of Florida and to her knowledge, there is no other accreditation available for social work programs. 

Dawn Brown, executive director for the National Association of Social Workers Florida and Virgin Islands chapters, agreed social work is founded on the idea of DEI. 

“Those values are actualized in education and life,” Brown told the subcommittee. 

Mutaqee Akbar, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Tallahassee (NAACP), told the subcommittee the NAACP will continue to advocate and fight against bills similar to House Bill 999. He said they were the first “woke” organization and will continue to stay “woke.”

Genesis Robinson, political director of Equal Ground, explained the bill shows a level of control the Florida government seeks to create. 

“Today you have before you a bill that seeks to dictate what is learned in institutions of higher learning by adults. It just goes to show you that this fight was never about what is appropriate for children. It is about control. It is about censorship,” said Robinson. “It is about big government dictating who we love, what we learn, what pronouns we use, and what books our children can read– and the list goes on. It’s a total infringement in violation of free speech and I urge you to vote no.”

As the public comment continued, the chair of the subcommittee only allowed speakers to present their name and position on the bill. This angered most of the speakers and they continued to speak after the microphone was shut off. 

After a short debate, the subcommittee voted in favor of the bill.  

Representatives Amnesty, Beltran, Berfield, Esposito, Gonzalez Pittman, Hawkins, Lopez, Plasencia, Rudman, Shoaf, Temple and Melo all voted in favor of the bill. Cross, Dunkley, Hinson, Eskamani, and Tant voted against the bill. 

Rep. Melony Bell (R) was not present at the hearing. 

At the end of the voting, members of the audience erupted into anger and started repeatedly chanting “shame” at the subcommittee. 

The subcommittee will send their favorable opinion alongside the bill to be voted on by members of the Florida House and Senate.

Savannah Peifer is the Editor-in-Chief for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories DM her on instagram @ginger.savvy or email her [email protected]