Gov. DeSantis signs controversial ‘anti-riot’ bill into law

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the press after giving his State of the State speech on the first day of the 2021 Legislative Session in Tallahassee, Fla. Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A controversial Florida bill aimed at cracking down on violent protests and “combating public disorder” was signed into law on Monday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1 at a 10 a.m. press conference with Florida lawmakers and law enforcement officials at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office’s headquarters in Winter Haven. He did not take questions after the signing.

The law went into effect immediately.

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The legislation, nicknamed the “Anti-Riot Bill”, was first filed in the Florida House of Representatives in early January, and passed the Senate on Thursday evening.Warren says Florida anti-riot bill ‘tears a couple corners off the Constitution’ 

The bill includes a number of the measures introduced by Gov. Ron DeSantis after last summer’s protests in his Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act.

The bill, which covers 61 pages, makes several changes to Florida criminal and administrative law, and will:

  • Make it more difficult for cities and counties to reduce funding for law enforcement, allowing local elected officials to challenge those budget decisions, and giving the state power to approve or amend the local budget
  • Allow those local governments to be sued if they fail to stop a riot
  • Define “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
  • Enhance penalties for people who commit crimes during a riot
  • Create 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

Florida Sen. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills), who sponsored the legislation, said he felt this framework was needed to draw a distinction between peaceful and violent behavior.

“Not only did we do that to put the public on notice as to what constitutes a riot, but also to make it clear to both protester and law enforcement where that line in the law is drawn,” said Burgess.

But a number of other officials and lawmakers are have criticized the bill, saying that it violates protests First Amendment Rights.

“This bill doesn’t give police or prosecutors any important new tools to handle unrest. It tears a couple corners off the Constitution,” Warren said in March. “It’s misguided. The public needs to understand this is a waste of valuable time and taxpayer money to keep pushing this bad bill forward.”

“This isn’t a game. This Governor and his Republican allies love to talk about the Constitution, while shredding it with extreme legislation like HB 1. Silencing the speech of those seeking equality is straight from the Communist regime playbook,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner said in a statement Monday. “The criminal aspects of this bill are already illegal. HB 1 protects no one, makes no one safer, and does nothing to make people’s lives better. It’s simply to appease the Governor’s delusion of widespread lawlessness, and it’s frightening to imagine the lengths to which he’ll go to strip away rights and freedoms for political gain.”

Others have questioned how the law will be enforced.

“Who will be the person to say when an actual riot is happening?” asked Fla. Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-Broward/Miami-Dade). “That question has still not been answered.”

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