TALLAHASSEE — Late in the night Wednesday, as Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, closed six hours of emotional debate over the abortion bill she was sponsoring, chants began to ring out from the Florida House gallery.
“My body! My choice!” protesters shouted, causing House Speaker Chris Sprowls to gavel the meeting to a temporary recess.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which oversees the Capitol Police, said Thursday that 25 activists had been given trespass notices related to the overnight protest. They will be prohibited from the Florida House for one year.
It didn’t take long for Capitol police officers to restore order. Officers ejected 30 protesters in all — five of which they later found were not being disruptive, according to an emailed statement from Gretl Plessinger, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“Only those who were disruptive received a trespass notice,” Plessinger said.
Officers made one arrest: Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates statewide organizing director Lauren Brenzel was arrested on a charge of “giving false name or false identification by person arrested or lawfully detained,” according to FDLE.
Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which is a staunch opponent of the House bill restricting abortion access, said in an emailed statement that the organization is still trying to determine precisely why Brenzel was arrested.
“The Capitol Police wrote that ‘she failed to identify herself’ (which is not a crime), but not that she gave any false name,” Goodhue wrote. The jail record specifically states she has no alias(es).”
Soon after the demonstration, the abortion bill passed along a largely party-line vote.
“It’s completely and utterly inappropriate to have an outburst like that disrupt the people’s business,” Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said early Thursday morning after the House session.
Taylor Cook, a student at the University of South Florida and an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, was one of the few dozen who received a yearlong ban from the House. Weeks ago, she was also among the contingent who staged a protest as the abortion bill was taken up by a House committee.
Cook disputed the contention that only those who were being disruptive received trespass warnings. She said some of her fellow organizers were not chanting, but they still were ejected and punished with yearlong bans from entering the House.
But even for those, like herself, who were chanting, a year ban is not a fair punishment, Cook argued.
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“We wanted our voices to be heard because they were considering this bill without even considering the people who they represent,” Cook said.
Next year’s legislative session starts March 7, 2023. Cook’s prohibition from entering the House will expire nearly a month earlier.
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