Gov. DeSantis pushes ‘free speech’ bill for doctors during briefing in Florida panhandle

Bill would prevent medical boards from sanctioning, reprimanding doctors for exercising their ‘right of free speech’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in Panama City on Thursday, March 3, 2022. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

PANAMA CITY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Thursday morning at Florida State University Panama City, calling for the passage of the ‘Free Speech of Health Care Practitioners’ bills currently making their way through the Florida legislature.

“We’re here today to really stand up for the traditional practice of medicine,” DeSantis claimed.

The governor then went through a long list of grievances with the COVID guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, in particular, railed against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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“You have to have protection for the First Amendment rights of people who are practicing medicine. You’re not going to have good medicine practice, if people are fearful of doing things that the evidence is telling them to do, just because it may conflict with the narrative,” DeSantis said, referring to health care providers who bucked the CDC’s COVID guidelines.

The bills — H.B. 687 and S.B. 1184 — call for the prohibition of “certain regulatory boards and the Department of Health from reprimanding, sanctioning, or revoking or threatening to revoke a license, certificate, or registration of a health care practitioner for specified use of his or her right of free speech without specified proof.”

The bill would allow doctors to file lawsuits against such boards if they were punished for “exercising his or her constitutional right of free speech” without the board providing proof “beyond a reasonable doubt that the speech used by the health care practitioner led to the direct physical harm of a person with whom the health care practitioner had a practitioner-patient relationship.”

DeSantis said these bills are in response to a statement from The Federation of State Medical Boards — a non-profit that “supports America’s state medical boards in licensing, disciplining and regulating physicians and other healthcare professionals,” according to its websites.

“The Federation of State medical boards released a threatening statement saying quote ‘Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license,’” he said. “I think most of you know here, you take away that medical license and you’ve neutered someone’s ability entirely to practice medicine and so we see this as something that is a big problem.”

One of the doctors present during DeSantis’ briefing later admitted that no Florida doctors were sanctioned in this fashion in 2021.

Currently, the House version of the bill has been in the Health and Human Services Committee since Feb. 15. The Senate version is in the Appropriations Committee.

The bills in both houses were introduced by Republican legislators from the Panhandle — Rep. Brad Drake in the House and Sen. Doug Broxson in the Senate.

Read the full text of the bills below:

PDF (1) by Thomas Mates on Scribd

PDF (2) by Thomas Mates on Scribd


About the Authors:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.