State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would extend the protection of the state’s hate crime statutes to reporters, increasing penalties for attacks on them.
“I can’t stand by and watch people be attacked for the work they do in the noble profession of reporting what’s happening,” Cruz said in an interview. “The message should be that in Florida we don’t tolerate that. The free press is under attack as it is.”
A functioning press, she said, is of particular importance during the pandemic and as the nation is dealing with unemployment and attempts to solve racial injustice.
Cruz said she hasn’t researched attacks on journalists but believes there is a problem because of incidents including attacks on journalists during the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker says it documented nearly 400 attacks on journalists nationwide in 2020.
In Florida, it cites 21 incidents since 2017 — a mix of attacks by attendees at political rallies, subjects of news stories and police officers; and harassment or obstruction by public officials.
Cruz said she’s working to find a sponsor for a House companion bill and doesn’t know whether the Republican legislative leadership will look favorably on the bill. If not, she said, “We’ll run it again next year.”
In the hate crimes statute, the bill would add “employment as a member of the press” to the protected categories of race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status and advanced age.
Contact William March at firstname.lastname@example.org.