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A bill to ban most abortions after 15 weeks is heading for the House floor

Patrick Sternad

A bill that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks passed its final House committee Thursday with no questions and no debate. Democrats on the committee chose to give up their speaking time to give more time to members of the public and when asked by the chair, Republican members of the committee agreed to follow suit.

"You heard the testimony of folks saying they drove four, five, six hours to be here to talk to us today. So it was really important for us as Democrats to be sure that those person’s voice were heard," said Rep Tracie Davis (D-Jacksonville), who is minority ranking member in the committee.

During the committee meeting, Chair Colleen Burton said close to 100 people had signed up to speak and she wanted to be sure all speakers would be heard on the measure. She said she would limit each speaker to 30 seconds. Davis pushed to give members of the pubic at least a minute.

"Throughout the process, public voice have somewhat been stifled. I feel like if we're asking folks to come and give public testimony maybe we should allow them longer than 30 seconds with the decorum requested of the room and toward the committee and back and forth. I'm asking out loud that we allow each person a minute to speak. "

After Davis made her request committee chair Colleen Burton asked Republican members if they’d be willing to give up their time for debate and questions as well. She said that would allow each person 45 seconds. Davis pushed for giving each member of the public a minute, but Burton held firm. The time limit frustrated many speakers.

“It look me more time to fill out this form than I was allowed to speak and I understand why you guys might not want us to speak. You might feel guilty about the way you’re going to vote," said Belinda Richey who represents the group Women's Voice of Southwest Florida.

In the end, Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) pointed out the meeting finished early.

“There could have been a better management of time because people were cut off on 45 seconds and we had a half hour left, so there could have been a better management of time to give people the voice that they wanted to have tonight,” Skidmore said

Frustration from members of the public wishing to be heard on this measure is nothing new. During a prior House committee stop, members of the public were cleared from the room when after about 30 minutes committee chair Bryan Avila announced speaking time had run out and audience members began chanting.

Davis says she doesn’t think it’s likely that she and other lawmakers will change the minds of her legislative colleagues across the aisle on issues like abortion access, but she says there’s chance hearing from their constituents could have an impact and she thinks it’s important members of the public get that time.

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