Controversial ‘anti riot’ bill approved by Florida House

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 1, 2021 file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fist bumps with legislators as he enters the House of Representatives prior to his State of the State address at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File) (Phil Sears, Copyright 2021 the Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-riot bill has faced fierce, heated criticism, but Friday it made its way one step closer to becoming law.

The legislation was approved by the Florida House of Representatives Friday with the final vote in Tallahassee was 76-39 in favor of what is known as HB 1. The vote fell along partisan lines with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.

In September, DeSantis announced new legislation to stop violent assemblies and protect law enforcement. He first proposed it after the many Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

The legislation, HB 1, the “Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” creates new criminal offenses and increases penalties for those who target law enforcement and participate in violent or disorderly assemblies.

The bill also addresses defunding the police, as it states that it “prohibits state grants or aid to any local government that slashes the budget for law enforcement services.”

Republicans say HB 1 is about public safety and cracking down on protests that escalate to violent riots. However, opponents say it is unconstitutional.

On the first day of the 2021 legislative session on March 2, protesters converged on Tallahassee to voice their displeasure. They say it aims to silence racial justice advocates and have called it “racist.” Lawmakers who are in opposition of the bill says it undermines first amendment freedoms by making it easier to arrest peaceful protesters.

The ACLU of Florida’s comment on HBC is that it “chills speech, silences dissent, and criminalizes peaceful protesters advocating for racial justice.”

The state’s only Democrat in statewide office, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, immediately sent a press release with reaction after the approval was announced. “Today’s debate of HB 1 shows the unintended consequences of a bill for which no Floridian asked. We’re told this is a bill that we should unite behind – which makes me wonder if we’re all reading the same bill.”

The proposal moves next to the Republican-controlled Senate.

(See the bill below.)

The Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act has three components, outlined below:

New Criminal Offenses to Combat Rioting, Looting and Violence

Prohibition on Violent or Disorderly Assemblies: 3rd degree felony when 7 or more persons are involved in an assembly and cause damage to property or injury to other persons.

Prohibition on Obstructing Roadways: 3rd degree felony to obstruct traffic during an unpermitted protest, demonstration or violent or disorderly assembly; driver is NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.

Prohibition on Destroying or Toppling Monuments: 2nd degree felony to destroy public property during a violent or disorderly assembly.

Prohibition on Harassment in Public Accommodations: 1st degree misdemeanor for a participant in a violent or disorderly assembly to harass or intimidate a person at a public accommodation, such as a restaurant.

RICO Liability: RICO liability attaches to anyone who organizes or funds a violent or disorderly assembly.

Increased Penalties

Mandatory Minimum Jail Sentence: Striking a law enforcement officer (including with a projectile) during a violent or disorderly assembly = 6 months mandatory minimum jail sentence.

Offense Enhancements: Offense and/or sentence enhancements for: (1) throwing an object during a violent or disorderly assembly that strikes a civilian or law enforcement officer; (2) assault/battery of a law enforcement officer during a violent or disorderly assembly; and (3) participation in a violent or disorderly assembly by an individual from another state.

Citizen and Taxpayer Protection Measures

No “Defund the Police” Permitted: Prohibits state grants or aid to any local government that slashes the budget for law enforcement services.

Victim Compensation: Waives sovereign immunity to allow a victim of a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly to sue local government for damages where the local government is grossly negligent in protecting persons and property.

Government Employment/Benefits: Terminates state benefits and makes anyone ineligible for employment by state/local government if convicted of participating in a violent or disorderly assembly.

Bail: No bond or bail until first appearance in court if charged with a crime related to participating in a violent or disorderly assembly; rebuttable presumption against bond or bail after first appearance.

About the Author:

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local