Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference in Winter Haven on Monday morning, April 19, where he signed an anti-riot bill into law, the Conservative Opinion reported.
The “Combatting Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” also known as HB1, changed the definition of riots and protests.
“It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country, and there’s just nothing even close,” DeSantis told reporters.
The law gives people who drive through demonstrators blocking a road civil legal immunity, and it took effect immediately.
The law also establishes a large category for misdemeanor arrests during demonstrations, with those charged falling under that category being denied bail before their first court appearance. DeSantis said that he wants to discourage people from returning to ongoing demonstrations by doing so.
It establishes a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting,” punishable by up to 15 years in jail, as well as a new crime of “mob intimidation.”
The bill also safeguards Confederate monuments, as well as other memorials, sculptures, and historic sites.
“We also saw around the country people toppling monuments of people like George Washington,” DeSantis said. “This bill protects all monuments in Florida. You have no right to go in and take down monuments. We’re not going to let the mob win the day with that.”
According to DeSantis, the legislation also prevents local governments from defunding law enforcement agencies, calling such a step “insane.”
“It allows the state to stop cities from cutting funding to police and puts local government on the hook if they ask police to stand down,” the governor said.
The bill was enacted in response to national protests following the death of George Floyd last year.
According to an article by The Guardian newspaper, the vast majority of citations and charges against protestors were dropped, dismissed, or not filed last year.
During the first week of the Floyd protests last year in Orlando, 80 of around 100 arrests on charges of disorderly conduct were eventually dismissed.
DeSantis also hinted that Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was made responsible for George Floyd’s death, would be acquitted, and the state was “prepared” for that.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” DeSantis said. “But I can tell you that case was bungled by the attorney general there in Minnesota. They didn’t handle it properly. And so there may be people disappointed.”
Governor DeSantis was joined by legislative representatives and cabinet members from around the state to celebrate the passage of HB1.
Lieutenant-Governor Jeanette Nuñez said, “Our administration believes there is a fine line between peaceful protest and violence. We have seen our nation’s communities ravaged by rage, anger, rioting, and chaos. Our democracy cannot afford to blur the lines between peaceful assembly and violence.”
“There is nothing more important to me than protecting people and their property and defending our law enforcement officers,” Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said. “And there has been no Governor in America bolder than Governor Ron DeSantis, and for that, I commend him.”
Democrats and civil rights organizations have called the bill unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment’s right to peaceful protest.
At the Monday conference, law enforcement officials said that they fully support peaceful demonstrations but that this legislation is necessary to avoid violent incidents.
“The problem with this bill is that the language is so overbroad and vague … that it captures anybody who is peacefully protesting at a protest that turns violent through no fault of their own,” said Kara Gross, the legislative director at ACLU Florida. “Those individuals who do not engage in any violent conduct under this bill can be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony and face up to five years in prison and loss of voting rights. The whole point of this is to instill fear in Floridians.”
The bill was passed along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against it. However, it was stalled in the Senate due to opposition from Miami Senator Jason Pizzo.
“Not a single one of my colleagues ever heard from law enforcement that last year they felt helpless in Florida. That the brave men and woman serving in either sheriff’s departments or local police departments felt helpless with rampant rioters,” Pizzo said.