‘Anti-riot’ bills gain steam in Florida’s Capitol

Trump supporter protesting across the street from the Florida Capitol. Photo by Paulette Jordan

The Florida House of Representatives and Senate have filed identical bills to address violence, disorder and looting, particularly during protests.

The bills — known as “anti-riot” legislation and championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — were filed in part as a response to the riots at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6. But they were in the works long before that, after protests in Tallahassee got out of hand last year.

The bills, SB 484 and HB 1, would require state approval for cities seeking to cut funding for police departments; would make local governments liable if they obstruct or interferewith a police departments ability to restore order during a civil disturbance; and would make it a first-degree misdemeanor for any mob harassing people in a public space, such as a restaurant.

It also imposes a mandatory minimum jail sentence of six months for anyone convicted of battery of a police officer; makes destroying a memorial or statue a second-degree felony; and bans the practice of blocking roadways.

 While as Americans we all have a right to peacefully assemble, violence or rioting of any kind is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in the state of Florida,Desantis said.

The same day of the D.C. riots, Trump protesters demonstrated in front of the stateCapitolin Tallahassee. The bills could help prevent Trump protesters from participating in uprisings similar to what took place on Jan. 6.

This proposed legislation takes on extra significance with former President Donald Trump now residing in Palm Beach.

In a democracy, rioting, violence and lawlessness are repugnant and unacceptable. This isnt a peaceful protest. Its an act of domestic terrorism. The House will work together with Governor DeSantis and the Senate to protect Floridians from this kind of nonsensical violence. And when these types of despicable acts happen, law enforcement and prosecutors will have the tools and the support they need to keep Floridians safe, communities whole and property undamaged,House Speaker Chris Sprowls said.

We are a nation of law and order, not violence, destruction and unrest. We respect the right to peacefully protest, but the shameful conduct we witnessed at the United States Capitol today and episodes of violent civil unrest that we have witnessed over the last several months have no place in our democracy,state Senator Danny Burgesssaid.

On Jan. 27, HB1 was passed by the Hose Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee, its first stop in the legislative process. The bill was passed 11-6, along party lines. However, many activists oppose the proposed bill, calling it racist and designed to target the Black Lives Matter movement.

DeSantis originally started the proposal in September of 2020, after some of the Black Lives Matter protests turned into riots in Tallahassee and other cities.