Florida state representative who sponsored 'Don't Say Gay' bill resigns

Florida state representative who sponsored 'Don't Say Gay' bill resigns

A Florida state representative who sponsored legislation dubbed the Don t Say Gay bill resigned Thursday, a day after he was accused of fraudulently obtaining tens of thousands of dollars from a federal Covid-relief program.

State Rep. Joseph Harding, a Republican, said his resignation would be effective immediately. He was indicted on a number of charges including wire fraud, money laundering, making false statements, and other crimes.

Harding, 35, sought more than $150,000 in Covid-relief loans and received roughly $45,000 in January and February 2021 for a pair of companies that had been dormant in the months before the applications were filed, according to the six-count indictment.

In a resignation letter addressed to Florida House Speaker Paul Renner and posted on Harding's Facebook page, he said his legal woes, including a trial in January, required his full attention.

It was a great honor to serve the people of this state and more specifically the people of Levy and Marion Counties, Harding said. 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. Renner did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

Harding said in applications to the Small Business Administration in 2020, Harding claimed that Vak Shack Inc. and Harding Farms had half a dozen employees and gross revenues from the previous year, totaling more than $800,000. The entities were dormant and had no employees, according to state records.

Harding pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the charges in court.

Harding said he had repaid every penny of the loan he received in a statement posted Thursday to Facebook.

Harding said in statement that he has done my best to cooperate fully with all authorities, and that there will be a time when I can tell my story in detail. He did not respond to a request for additional comment Thursday night.

Harding, whose district includes Ocala, was elected in 2020.

He sponsored a bill this year that prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in the state's primary schools. The bill, which was criticized as an attack on Florida's LGBTQ community, was signed into law by Republican Gov. in March.