Controversial Florida anti-riot bill now awaits governor decision

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
FILE Photo of a 2020 peaceful protest for social justice outside the Fort Myers Police Department headquarters in downtown Fort Myers. Credit: WINK News.

A controversial anti-riot bill filled with consequences for demonstrators is ready for Gov. Ron DeSantis to make an executive decision.

DeSantis pushed for this legislation following a summer of protests for social justice in 2020 after the death of a Black man in police custody.

But peaceful protesters are emotional about the proposed new rules, saying the law wouldn’t help in their fight for justice.

“Our response to injustice is to protest, and your response is to criminalize it,” State Sen. Shevrin D. Jones (Fla-D) said in Tallahassee.

“The only reference to peaceful protests in this bill protect it,” State Sen. Danny Burgess (Fla-R) said in Tallahassee.

Thursday, nearly three hours of heated debate took place on the Florida Senate floor.

Now, the anti-riot bill is just one signature away from becoming law.

“Can I tell you that this bill is not about racism? Not entirely I can’t,” State Sen. Ed Hooper (Fla-R) said in Tallahassee. “But I do believe in my heart at the end of the day, we are a nation and a country of law and order.”

“It will make the next John Lewis or the next Martin Luther King Jr. think twice about using their voice or their feet to effect change,” State Sen. Audrey Gibson said in Tallahassee.

What the bill provides

  • Grants civil immunity to anyone who drives through protesters blocking a road
  • It establishes harsher punishments for violent protests
  • Assaulting an officer is a minimum of six months in jail
  • Destroying memorials or flags is a second-degree felony
  • Arrested protesters stay in jail until their first appearance in court

“It’s designed to make it so scary for folks to show up at an event because they are worried that someone else might do something,” said Micah Kubic, the executive director of the American Civili Liberties Union of Florida.

Kubic told us the ACLU will wait until after the governor signs the bill into law before deciding whether to sue.

“The ACLU has a long history of challenging laws that are unconstitutional, that violate American values, and this one does both of those in abundance,” Kubic said.

Statement from the governor’s office

“With the passage of HB 1, the Florida Legislature has answered Governor DeSantis’ call to uphold the rights of our state’s residents while protecting businesses and supporting our brave men and women in law enforcement. 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 Governor looks forward to signing HB 1 into law.”

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