ORLANDO, Fla. — Well before Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed Wednesday to make Florida “the national leader in civics education,” Florida legislators were crafting their own visions.

What You Need To Know

Republican state Rep. Ardian Zika of Pasco County last month introduced HB 5, the Portraits in Patriotism Act. He said his love of the U.S. and belief in American Exceptionalism inspired his sponsorship of the bill.

“When I came to America, I found a place to long for. I found a place to live, and I found a place to love,” said Zika, who immigrated here from the former Yugoslavia. “America is an amazing nation, and I’m proud and blessed to be an American, and this is why I am sponsoring this bill.”

Zika, of Land O'Lakes, made his comments in a video last month in a Florida House of Representatives news release about his legislation.

The bill calls for the Florida Department of Education to develop a K-12 education curriculum that must assist students in developing “an understanding of their shared rights and responsibilities as residents of the state and of the founding principles of the United States.”

It requires that students understand “the civic-minded expectations... of an upright and desirable citizenry that recognizes and accepts responsibility for preserving and defending the blessings of liberty inherited from prior generations and secured by the United States Constitution.”

The legislation also calls for the curation of “oral history resources” that “provide portraits in patriotism based on the personal stories of diverse individuals who demonstrate civic-minded qualities... ” Such portraits would include “first-person accounts of victims of other nations' governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States,” according to the bill.

Meanwhile, DeSantis on Wednesday announced his $106 million Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative and urged the Legislature to allocate funding through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

DeSantis’s initiative includes a $3,000 bonus for educators who complete training and earn a Florida Civics Seal of Excellence, plus $16.5 million for training, development, and classroom support for educators and principals who seek to “elevate civics education in Florida schools.”

The governor said another $17 million would develop civics curricula with “foundational concepts." He said his initiative rejects “unsanctioned narratives like critical race theory,” which examines the way race and racism influences politics, culture, and the law.

It’s unclear whether DeSantis supports Zika’s Portraits in Patriotism Act. But Sabin Sidney, press secretary for the Florida House of Representatives, emphasized to Spectrum News on Thursday that Zika’s bill “does not specifically mention critical race theory, unlike the governor’s” proposal.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) stands among the bill’s critics. In an email reply Thursday to Spectrum News, she called the legislation “another attempt to pivot attention away from the racial disparities that people in America and Florida experience and focus on culture wars instead.”

Eskamani noted that the governor said Wednesday that Florida’s schools “are supposed to give people a foundation of knowledge, not supposed to be indoctrination centers where you’re trying to push specific ideologies.”

“But House Bill 5 is very much focused on emphasizing a specific ideology,” Eskamani said in her email. “I would much rather we focus on teaching the history of civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and immigrant rights and feel that curriculum would be better in upholding American values of freedom and equality.”

Zika reiterated his sentiment about his bill on Thursday, telling Spectrum News through the House Office of Public Information:

“I am proud to sponsor HB 5, the ‘Portraits in Patriotism Act,’ because of my history as an immigrant from Kosovo. America is an amazing nation of opportunity, and I am blessed to be an American. HB 5 is about sharing these stories, like mine, with Florida’s students.”

The bill — whose cosponsors include Republicans Webster Barnaby of Deltona, Randy Maggard of Dade City, and Stan McClain of Ocala — is approaching a vote of the full House. A companion bill, SB 1450, is progressing though the Senate.

This legislative session includes other legislation that focuses on civics education.

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg sponsored SB 146, which would require high school students to identify a civic issue that affects her or his community and to develop a plan to address the issue. Such practicum must be nonpartisan and “promote a student’s ability to consider differing points of view,” the bill says.

Also, the bill calls for the state Board of Education to each year designate, as Freedom Schools, public high schools that provide students with “high-quality civic learning, including civic-engagement skills."

State Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) told Spectrum News early Thursday that she supported Brandes’s bill.

“I think you would agree that civics education is needed for students in Florida and they need to know more about how their government works,” she said.

Stewart said she hadn’t yet seen the Portraits in Patriotism Act legislation but that “I think we should encourage civic education... with guard rails.”

Later Thursday, Brandes’s bill passed the senate, 39-0. A companion bill, HB 611 — cosponsored by Democratic Reps. Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg and Susan Valdes of Tampa — faces a vote soon in the House.

Eskamani of Orlando told Spectrum News that she hadn’t yet read the bill but that it “seems like an objective effort to get more students engaged in civics.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.