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Florida House Speaker Renner, Gov. DeSantis look at social media 'alternatives'

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TALLAHASSEE - With a Friday deadline looming, House Speaker Paul Renner said Wednesday that he and Gov. Ron DeSantis are trying to work out differences on a bill aimed at keeping children under age 16 off social media platforms.

"We're looking at alternatives and what we can do together," Renner told reporters. "So we're still working together."

When pressed about possible alternatives, Renner replied, "I don't have anything further to say about it other than we're going to keep talking. I really don't have anything to announce yet."

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill (HB 1), which Renner has made a priority of this year's legislative session. But DeSantis has raised questions about the measure's constitutionality and whether it would infringe on parental rights.

Among other things, the bill would prevent children under 16 from creating accounts on at least some social media platforms; require platforms to terminate existing accounts that they know or have "reason to believe" are held by minors younger than 16; and allow parents to request that minors' accounts be terminated.

Speculation has swirled in the Capitol about DeSantis possibly vetoing the bill. That would create an unusual dynamic, as DeSantis and Renner have been political allies.

The Legislature sent the bill to DeSantis last week, creating a Friday deadline for the governor to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Renner met with DeSantis on Monday in the governor's office.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo indicated Wednesday she is letting Renner and DeSantis try to work out the issue.

"I think the governor and the speaker are having conversations, good conversations about the bill," Passidomo told reporters. "And I support the speaker and his initiative. I support the governor and his thoughts, So if they can come to a good compromise, I'm all for it, and I'll help them in any way I can."

An attempt to override a DeSantis veto would require two-thirds support from the Senate and the House. But the bill passed in the Senate by a 23-14 margin, and an override in the 40-member Senate would require 27 votes. The House passed the bill 108-7.

But lawmakers could have other options if DeSantis vetoes the bill. For example, that could include amending onto another bill social-media changes that would be acceptable to DeSantis.

Renner and other supporters of his bill say "addictive" social media harms the mental health of children and can be used by sexual predators to communicate with minors.

The bill includes criteria for determining which platforms would be subject to the restrictions. The criteria would include issues related to algorithms, "addictive features" and allowing users to view the content or activities of other users.

Also, it would require platforms to use age verification before accounts are created, with the verifications also affecting adults.

"It (social media) is a major existential threat to this generation and the coming generations," Renner said Wednesday.

Critics have argued that parents should be able to decide whether children use social media. They have also cited court decisions that have blocked similar social media laws in other states.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a national group known as FIRE, released a statement Wednesday urging DeSantis to veto the bill.

"The courts have affirmed time and again that minors have strong First Amendment rights of their own, and young Floridians statewide use social media to communicate with friends and family, keep up with current events, and learn more about their world," the group's statement said. "HB 1's sweeping prohibition on protected speech will not withstand constitutional scrutiny."

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