March 25, 2023

Florida Senate delivers the ‘red meat’ DeSantis ordered as ‘anti-riot’ bill adopted

Seven months after Gov. Ron DeSantis called for a crackdown on violent protests, Florida lawmakers have put one on his desk.

The Senate Thursday adopted the Combating Public Disorder Act after an hours’-long floor debate in a 23-17 vote. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was the only Republican to vote against the measure.

Shortly after House Bill 1 passed its final floor vote – the House approved it March 26 in a 76-39 partisan tally – the Governor’s Office issued a statement praising lawmakers.

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

Once signed into law, the bill takes effect immediately.

“This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble while ensuring those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished,” the statement continued. “Further, this legislation ensures no community in the state engages in defunding of their police.”

Last summer, as police brutality protests erupted nationwide, DeSantis called for a crackdown on rioters even though demonstrations in Florida were largely non-violent.

The 61-page ‘Combating Public Disorder Act’ enhances penalties for crimes committed during protests, requires people arrested during demonstrations stay in jail until a court appearance, creates “mob intimidation” felonies and preempts local control of law enforcement budgets.

Under HB 1, filed by Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami, it would be a second-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison to destroy a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure commemorating people or events.

HB 1 has drawn widespread rebuke as suppression of free speech specifically targeting the Black Lives Matter movement, including by 71 university law school professors who classify it as the most “draconian” of 2021 GOP bills “criminalizing dissent” filed in legislatures nationwide.

“This bill is vindictive,” said Sen. Aubrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, Thursday’s floor as Democrats mounted a doomed last stand against HB 1.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, said preempting local governments’ control of law enforcement budgets is based on the lie that there’s an effort afoot someplace in Florida to “defund police.”

“I don’t want to defund police,” Pizzo said. “Not at all. I think we should have more police.”

Republicans cited an Axios analysis that documented vandalism and looting during summer protests in 140 cities generated up to $2 billion in paid insurance claims.

“I hope there’s a day where we can come together and say that is wrong,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. “The deaths that occurred during these protests, the fires that happened, the looting that happened. That is wrong.”

“I draw the line at burning buildings down that people’s life savings helped create,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

Republicans said HB 1 is a simple law-and-order measure.

“If I thought you filed a bill that had any racial intent, I’d run you out that door,” said Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater.

After HB 1 was adopted, Senate Democrats – clad in black shirts – called on businesses to speak out against the new law.

“Many businesses … they recognized the pain and suffering some of us in the Black community were feeling,” said Sen Bobby Powell, Jr., D-West Palm Beach. “Now is the time to step up.”

Minority Democratic Leader Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said

Republicans are only concerned with optics, not ramifications, Farmer said.

“This bill is nothing more than a piece of political red meat,” he said. “It’s been forced upon these chambers by the governor – this ‘Trumpian’ disciple who seeks to stamp out and thwart the voices of the people.”

This article was originally posted on Florida Senate delivers the ‘red meat’ DeSantis ordered as ‘anti-riot’ bill adopted

Sydney Boles