Florida's controversial blogging bill, explained

Critics say 'it's hard to imagine a proposal that would be more violative of the First Amendment'

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A Republican state senator in Florida has proposed a bill that would require paid bloggers who write about state legislators, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), or his Cabinet to register with a state agency. Here's what you need to know about S.B. 1316, Florida's "Information Dissemination" bill.

What is in the proposed bill?

Introduced by state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R), the bill would require blog writers who are paid for online posts about an elected state official to register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics, "though the requirement would not extend to the websites of newspapers or similar sites," per The Hill. Such writers would also be required to disclose who is paying them for the posts and how much. If they fail to register, they could be fined $25 a day, with the penalty capped at $2,500 per post, NBC affiliate WFLA of Tampa reported.

"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, per the proposed legislation. The bill defines "elected state officer" as "the governor, the lieutenant governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature."

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Blogs are defined as "a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content," though the bill clarifies that the "term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication."

"Paid bloggers are lobbyists who write instead of talk. They both are professional electioneers," Brodeur said, per Florida Politics. "If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn't paid bloggers?"

What are critics saying about the proposed bill?

While the governor has not confirmed whether he supports the bill, the "suggestion that more restrictions be placed on people writing about DeSantis stands in direct contrast to the governor's messaging that Florida should have as much freedom as possible," writes Insider.

Ron Kuby, a First Amendment lawyer in New York, told NBC News that it is unlikely the law would survive a court challenge if passed. "It's hard to imagine a proposal that would be more violative of the First Amendment," Kuby said. "We don't register journalists. People who write cannot be forced to register."

"I'm all for shrugging off ridiculous bills that stand no realistic chance of success," MSNBC's Steve Benen says, "but given the state of Republican politics, it's become far more difficult to make such assessments reliably." Legislation like the proposed bill "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," he adds. "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." Benen compared the bill to a similar measure passed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014 known as the "bloggers law," which requires "popular internet writers to follow rules normally reserved for larger media outlets," per The Verge.

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