Sponsor of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law resigns following indictment for pandemic aid fraud

The Florida state legislator who sponsored the bill that became known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has resigned after he was indicted for pandemic-era loan fraud.

State Rep. Joe Harding (R) said in a statement posted on his Facebook page on Thursday that he is resigning effective immediately, saying that Floridians’ leaders should not be burdened by distractions that are “mine alone.”

“When I decided to run in in 2019 for the Florida House, I did so for two simple reasons: I love people, and I love Florida. Today, I am resigning from my position for the same two reasons: I love people, and I love Florida,” he said.

Harding’s resignation comes after the Justice Department (DOJ) charged him with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering and two counts of making false statements to the Small Business Administration.

The indictment stems from accusations that Harding submitted false documentation when applying for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, which is meant to help small businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic’s economic impacts. The DOJ alleges that the documentation Harding submitted included the names of inactive business entities.

The money laundering charge comes from Harding allegedly transferring the stolen funds.

Harding said in the statement that he cannot comment on the details of his case, but would more detail when he is able. He said he wanted to reassure his constituents and taxpayers that he repaid “every penny” of the loan he obtained and has done the best he can to cooperate with authorities.

“It has been a great honor to serve the people of this state and more specifically the people of Levy and Marion Counties. However, due to legal issues that require my complete focus, it is my opinion that now is the time to allow someone else to serve my district,” he said.

Harding was the main sponsor of the Parental Rights in Education Act, which became known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The legislation prevents teachers in kindergarten through third grade from having classroom discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity and all teachers from instruction on those topics that is not “age appropriate.”

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