Joe Harding ‘don’t say gay’ Florida lawmaker resigns over fraud

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Joe Harding ‘don’t say gay’ Florida lawmaker resigns over fraud

The Florida Republican lawmaker who sponsored the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill resigned this week after being indicted on federal fraud charges related to COVID-19 relief funds. 

State Rep. Joe Harding stepped down Thursday after an indictment was unsealed the day before, alleging that the 35-year-old conservative legislator from Ocala applied for roughly $150,000 in COVID-19 relief loans through the Small Business Administration using two defunct companies.

In announcing his resignation, Harding, who was elected to office in 2020, said that he wanted what’s best for Floridians, Politico reported.

“Today, I am resigning from my position for the same two reasons: I love people, and I love Florida,” he wrote in a now-unavailable Facebook post. “I believe in Floridians and want what is best for them, and I believe their leaders need not be encumbered by distractions that are mine alone.”

Harding faces up to 35 years in prison for two counts of wire fraud, two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity, and two counts of making false statements to the Small Business Administration related to the scheme, according to the US Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

Protestors against the controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill in Florida this spring.
Protestors against the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida this spring.
Getty Images
Harding famously sponsored the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education law.
Harding famously sponsored the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education law.
AFP via Getty Images

The former legislator pleaded not guilty to the allegations in a hearing on Tuesday and claimed he had repaid the loans. He has a trial date set for Jan. 11. 

Harding famously sponsored the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education law, ridiculed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which sparked national protests. The legislation, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in March, bans any classroom discussion surrounding sexual orientation or gender identity until the third grade in public schools. 

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