He gained notoriety and well-deserved criticism for sponsoring legislation that became known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill,  but now Florida GOP Rep. Joseph Harding stands accused of illegally obtaining thousands of dollars in Covid relief funds, according to authorities Wednesday.
NBC News  reports that Harding, 35, was indicted on six counts of wire fraud, money laundering, making false statements and various other crimes, the U.S. attorney’s office for Northern Florida reported in a press release.
Harding, whose district is located just outside of Gainesville, is “accused of seeking Covid-relief loans from the Small Business Administration in 2020 for two companies,” per NBC News. According to the indictment the two companies are Vak Shak, Inc., and Harding Farms. The indictment also alleges that Harding claimed the companies had six employees and grossed revenues that totaled more than $800,000 during the previous year.
That’s lovely but is reportedly fiction rather than fact. Neither company had employees and state records show that they had been unoccupied for months before the applications were filed, per the indictment.
Harding asked for more than $150,000 in loans but ultimately received $45,000 in January and February 2021 the indictment reports, and according to court records, he pleaded not guilty to the charges in court Wednesday.
Elected in 2020, Harding, a home healthcare executive, was soon on his way to infamy after he introduced a bill that bars classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in the state’s primary schools.
And because Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is just as bigoted as Harding is, he signed the bill into law. At the time Harding claimed the measure was aimed at “empowering parents” and creating boundaries that would determine “what is appropriate in our schools.” DeSantis signed the bill in March  and it went into effect  over the summer.
So apparently it’s allegedly (got to get that in there — allegedly) to go trolling for money that really isn’t supposed to be yours, but it’s not okay to allow teachers to help kids who may have real questions about gender identity or sexual identity.
Got it. Clear as a bell. And as you might guess, critics hate this bill because it has the potential to create real harm, and some already view it as an attack on Florida’s LGBTQ community. There’s also the concern that school districts may be subjected to lawsuits from parents who want nothing to do with any sort of conversation regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This bill goes way beyond the text on its page,” former Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat who is gay, said last February. “It sends a terrible message to our youth that there is something so wrong, so inappropriate, so dangerous about this topic that we have to censor it from classroom instruction.”
I think there’s a time in the lives of many children when they may question their own sexuality or gender identity and not allowing them to discuss this with their peers in a classroom stands to do real harm. That is shameful.
Harding’s trial date is scheduled for January 11. He faces up to 20 years in prison related to the fraud charges, 10 years in prison for money laundering, and five years for making false statements, NBC News reports. I’m glad he’s going to trial for this and I’m going to point out that if Republicans are going to worry about what is best for their “community” they should quit holding back others within that same community.