Florida’s Senate has approved an “anti-riot” bill championed by Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis and sent it to him to be signed into law. The Senate passed the bill 23-17 on Thursday in a vote largely along party lines; on March 26, the bill passed the House 76-39.
The bill permits citizens to sue a local government if that government does not stop a riot and “defines ‘riot’ as a violent public disturbance involving 3 or more people acting with common intent resulting in injury to others, damage to property, or the imminent danger of injury or damage,” WFLA reports, adding that the bill “creates a new second-degree felony called an ‘aggravated riot,’ which occurs when the riot has more than 25 participants, causes great bodily harm or more than $5,000 in property damage, uses or threatens to use a deadly weapon, or blocks roadways by force or threat of force.”
DeSantis stated, “This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished. Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police.”
The bill prohibits “specified assemblies from using or threatening to use imminent force against another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint under certain circumstances; (require) a minimum term of imprisonment for a person convicted of battery on a law enforcement officer committed in furtherance of a riot or an aggravated riot … (prohibit) defacing, injuring, or damaging a memorial or historic property; providing a penalty; requiring a court to order restitution for such a violation … (reclassify) specified burglary offenses committed during a riot or an aggravated riot and facilitated by conditions arising from the riot … (require) a person arrested for such a violation to be held in custody until first appearance … (prohibit) cyberintimidation by publication; providing criminal penalties; (prohibit) a person from inciting a riot (while) providing an increased penalty for inciting a riot under specified circumstances.”
“The parts of the bill (HB 1 ) that most upset Democrats grant civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road; prevent people arrested for rioting or offenses committed during a riot from bailing out of jail until their first court appearance; and impose a six-month mandatory sentence for battery on a police officer during a riot,” The Orlando Sentinel reported.
Black Voters Matter co-founder and executive director Cliff Albright complained that the law was a reaction to America’s youth expressing their feelings after the death of George Floyd, arguing, “And in response to that, for the state to say, we’re going to criminalize your activity. We’re going to criminalize your passion. We’re going to criminalize your protest. That’s not what democracy looks like.”