Lawmakers in Tallahassee passed a revised version of the social media restriction bill. President Joe Biden reacts to the Alabama Supreme Court's decision that frozen embryos are babies. 

Social media restriction bill passes both chambers

Both chambers in the Florida legislature passed a bill Thursday that would keep children under the age of 16 off popular platforms regardless of parental approval.

The measure passed 108-7 in the House and 23-14 in the Senate.

The measure will now go to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has expressed displeasure in the wording of the bill.

In Orlando, DeSantis told reporters the proposal still needed work. The bill would ban minors younger than 16 from social media with no parental exception to the rule.

“I’m a critic of social media, but I have to look at this from a parent’s perspective, so we’re working through this," DeSantis said. "I don’t think it’s there yet. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get there in a way that I think answers a lot of the concerns that a lot of folks have."

That warning came just hours after House Bill 1 passed in the Senate.

The bill targets any social media site that tracks user activity, allows children to upload material and interact with others, and uses addictive features designed to cause excessive or compulsive use. Supporters point to rising suicide rates among children, cyberbullying and predators using social media to prey on kids.

“We’re talking about businesses that are using addictive features to engage in mass manipulation of our children to cause them harm,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Erin Grall.

Other states have considered similar legislation, but most have not proposed a total ban. In Arkansas, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a law in August that required parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts.

Supporters in Florida hope that if the bill becomes law, it would withstand legal challenges because it would ban social media formats based on addictive features such as notification alerts and auto-play videos, rather than the content on their sites.

But opponents say it blatantly violates the First Amendment and that it should be left to parents, not the government, to monitor children’s social media use.

“This isn’t 1850," said Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo. "While parents show up at school board meetings to ban books, their kids are on their iPads looking at really bad stuff."

Some parents also have mixed feelings.

Central Florida mother Angela Perry said she understands the rationale behind the bill, and noted that she and her husband didn’t let their daughter onto any major platforms until she turned 15. But Perry said she believes it should be up to every parent to make that decision based on the maturity of their children.

“Whatever happened to parental rights?” Perry asked. “You are already selecting books my child can read at school. That is fine to a certain extent. But now you are also moving into their private life as well. It’s becoming intrusive.”

The Florida bill would require social media companies to close any accounts it believes to be used by minors and to cancel accounts at the request of a minor or parents. Per the bill, any information pertaining to the account must also be deleted.

Biden reacts to Alabama Supreme Court decision

The Alabama Supreme Court's recent decision that frozen embryos can be considered children is beginning to enter the fracas of the 2024 presidential campaign, becoming another flashpoint in the battle over reproductive health with the issue of abortion likely to remain a salient issue in November. 

In an interview released Wednesday afternoon, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley responded to the ruling in an interview with NBC News, saying “Embryos, to me, are babies.”

"When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me -- that’s a life, and so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that,” she added later in the interview. 

Haley herself used artificial insemination to have her son, which is a different procedure from IVF. 

By nightfall, the former U.N. Ambassador sought to clarify that her comment about considering embryos babies was not an endorsement of the Alabama Supreme Court’s controversial ruling. 

“I didn’t say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling,” Haley said in a CNN interview on Wednesday night. “The question that I was asked is: do I believe an embryo is a baby? I do think that if you look in the definition an embryo is considered an unborn baby.”

The former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor went on to emphasize that the “goal” when it comes to frozen embryos should be to “always do what parents want.”

“So any physician that is in control of those embryos, they owe it to those people to make sure they protect that embryo,” she added. 

The former South Carolina governor’s comments came as Haley has sought to position herself as more realistic than her former GOP rivals when it comes to abortion, arguing for a "consensus" on the issue that can get enough support in Congress to actually pass. Haley, however, has said she would sign a national abortion ban as president

The Alabama Supreme Court – which is completely Republican-dominated – sparked attention around the country when it ruled that a state law giving parents the ability to sue over the death of a child “applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.” That, according to the court, included embryos. 

“Unborn children are ‘children,’” one justice wrote in the unanimous ruling. 

Experts are now warning the decision could have major implications for in-vitro fertilization as Alabama’s largest hospital on Wednesday said it is halting the practice for now as it looks into the legal implications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 4 million births annually in the U.S., or 1-2%, are from IVF. The treatment can be a costly one, with the average cost of a single IVF cycle costing between $10,000-15,000, per Penn Medicine, and experts are concerned that the Alabama ruling could raise those costs further.  

Democrats have sought to tie the Alabama high court's ruling to the Supreme Court's decision in 2022 to overturn the nearly 50-year-old decision in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to an abortion.

In a statement on Thursday, President Joe Biden made it clear that he thinks the two issues are connected: "Make no mistake: this is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v. Wade."

"Today, in 2024 in America, women are being turned away from emergency rooms and forced to travel hundreds of miles for health care, while doctors fear prosecution for providing an abortion," Biden said. "And now, a court in Alabama put access to some fertility treatments at risk for families who are desperately trying to get pregnant. The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable."

"I know that folks are worried about what they’re seeing happening to women all across America," he added. "I am too. I hear about it everywhere I go. My message is: The Vice President and I are fighting for your rights. We’re fighting for the freedom of women, for families, and for doctors who care for these women. And we won’t stop until we restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law for all women in every state."

Since the decision in the summer of 2022, abortion rights advocates have seen major wins in states nationwide, including traditionally red ones like Kansas, Kentucky and Montana. 

Democrats, who have credited their full-throated defense of abortion for helping the party have strong showings in the 2022 midterm and 2023 off-year elections, have shown no signs of easing up on highlighting the issue on the trail. 

Biden held a major reelection rally with all four White House principals last month focused specifically on the topic and “restoring Roe.” 

Biden’s reelection team also seized on Alabama’s ruling, calling it “MAGA” Republicans’ “latest attack on reproductive freedom” and seeking to put the blame directly on Biden’s potential 2024 opponent former President Donald Trump. 

The campaign responded to reports that the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system, which includes the state's largest hospital, was pausing IVF treatments as it figured out how to respond to the ruling.

“What is happening in Alabama right now is only possible because Donald Trump’s Supreme Court justices overturned Roe v. Wade. Across the nation, MAGA Republicans are inserting themselves into the most personal decisions a family can make, from contraception to IVF,” Biden-Harris 2024 Campaign Manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement. 

“If Donald Trump is elected, there is no question that he will impose his extreme anti-freedom agenda on the entire country,” she added. 

Trump appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who were in the majority that overturned Roe. 

Despite often boasting about his role in Roe’s end, for his part, publicly, Trump has not given details about what he would support if elected in terms of a national abortion ban. Instead, he has held that he would “sit down with both sides and negotiate a deal,” as Trump campaign National Press Secretary Karoline Leavitt reiterated in a statement last week. 

However, a report from the New York Times sparked headlines last week after the outlet reported Trump privately supports a ban on abortion after 16 weeks of pregnancy. 

When asked about the ruling on Thursday, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a former GOP candidate for president-turned-Trump booster, declined to address it, saying instead: "I haven’t studied the issue so I’m going to let Nikki Haley continue to go back and forth on that issue."

While polling has shown abortion is extremely popular in the United States, there is less data surveying IVF specifically. The Pew Research Center found 61% of adults say health insurance should cover fertility treatments and 42% say someone they know or they themselves have received such treatments.

Spectrum News' Justin Tasolides contributed to this report

Vape shop owners concerned over new proposal

Florida Senate Bill 1006 and its counterpart House Bill 1007 are heading toward a floor vote. The bills would limit all vape shops to only carry FDA approved products.

Florida State Sen. Keith Perry is a sponsor of SB 1006 and says the move is meant to protect children and consumers from unsafe products.

“Florida now has the dubious distinction of being the number one state in the country for illegal and illicit vapes,” Perry said.

Perry says illegal vape product sales are more than 360 million a year in Florida alone. The Bill would create a state registry and only FDA products will be eligible.

Some vape shop owners oppose the legislation, including Nick Orlando. He owns four different stores, including Vapors Depot in Largo. Orlando is also President of Florida Smoke Free Association, and advocates for the vape industry at the state capital. He says the proposals will hurt shop owners.

“Over 10,000 mom and pop businesses would shut down. Over 50,000 Floridians would lose their jobs and we would have a huge gap in our economy of $1.2 billion,” Orlando said.

Orlando says the Food and Drug Administration is very tough when it comes to approving products.

“What I mean is these people in our industry that have been around for years helping people get off combustible tobacco, who have filed these applications with our FDA, 99% of those companies have been denied market orders and cannot sell their product if this bill goes into effect,” Orlando said.

He has been traveling to the state capital and trying to work with lawmakers to produce a compromise.

SB 1006 now will head to the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, then off to a floor vote. Its counterpart, HB 1007, is also heading toward a full vote.