Lawmakers dispute Florida anti-riot bill as it goes through legislative process

Reporter: Morgan Rynor Writer: Jack Lowenstein
A general view of the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. (Photo: AP)

An anti-riot bill would increase penalties for crimes during protests in Florida.

HB 1: Combating Public Disorder was first proposed in the state after the summer 2020 protests over racial injustice.

HB 1 passed the first stop in the legislative process recently, but there are concerns the bill is too partisan.

Long before the riot at the U.S. Capitol, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to bring the hammer down on protest organizers if those protests turn violent.

“Basically, the penalty now is serve you with some papers; you’ll get out of jail; and maybe an hour later, you can go do it again,” said State Rep. Bob Rommel (R) of Naples. “With this bill, that will not.”

Rommel likes the bill.

State Rep. Michael Greico (D) does not support it. He is the top-ranking Democrat on the Florida House criminal justice subcommittee.

“It essentially calls for increased penalties for a slew of activity that is already illegal,” Greico said. “But it expands definitions of things like riots, aggravated riots, mob intimidation.”

Greico said the measure is a setback for people trying to make their voices heard.

“Any major movement in this country has been a result of protesting,” Greico said. “We wouldn’t have the weekend. We wouldn’t have unions if it weren’t for protests.”

While Greico said the first solution is to listen to why the rioters are upset, Rommel told us it’s too late for that.

“Ask them nicely doesn’t seem to have worked so far,” Rommel said.

Rommell told us he doesn’t know a logical person who would not support this bill. It goes to a Florida Senate subcommittee chaired by a Democrat next. Florida Sen. Jason Pizzo (D), who might run for governor, could kill the bill simply by refusing to hear it, but Republicans believe he will hold hearings.

Some of the changes in the proposed bill:

  • Anyone who is arrested at a riot automatically spends a night in jail
  • Assault on an officer equals six months behind bars
  • Destroying a monument equals a minimum of 15 years incarcerated

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