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‘Don’t Say Gay’ law sponsor charged with pandemic aid fraud in Florida

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday announced pandemic loan fraud charges against Florida state Rep. Joe Harding (R), who earlier this year sponsored the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that limited discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

The DOJ returned an indictment against Harding for two counts of wire fraud, accusing him of defrauding the Small Business Administration (SBA) of $150,000.

Harding allegedly abused the Economic Injury Disaster Loan by submitting false documentation, including by submitting the names of inactive business entities.

The Florida lawmaker is also charged with two counts of money laundering by transferring the allegedly stolen funds and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.

According to a DOJ release, Harding faces up to 35 years in prison based on the combined maximum sentences of the charges.

Harding was the lead sponsor of the Parental Rights in Education act, dubbed by critics as the Don’t Say Gay bill, which became law over the spring.

The law limits discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade and has raised concerns about suppressing LGBTQ representation.

Harding also attempted to insert an amendment into the bill that would have required school principals to inform a student’s parents of their sexual orientation within six weeks of learning they were not straight.