Democrats continue to oppose ‘anti-riot’ bill

Protesters gather in front of the Capitol while lawmakers debate “anti-riot” legislation. Photo courtesy

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled his support for the new legislation that is likely to pass that focuses on harsher penalties for violent rioters and looters. The bill, HB 1 goes by competing names — ”Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Act” or, the anti-riot bill — was approved in the Florida House of Representatives with a party-line vote of 76-39.

A companion bill in the Senate — required if the measure is to advance to the governor’s desk and b come law — has yet to be heard in a committee.

This bill would add new criminal offenses and increase penalties for protesters involved in violent assemblies. Its supporters say it will help protect law enforcement from retaliation.

“We have to stand unequivocally behind the people you see behind me, who put on the uniform and put themselves at risk to be able to defend our freedoms and defend our society. If you look at some of the people who have been involved in some of this violence, these are people that will come from all across the country — if there is any type of issue, they all of a sudden show up in all these places — and we’re going to figure out who’s organizing and who’s funding that and hold them accountable,” Desantis said during his press conference last week announcing his support for HB 1.

The bill was sponsored by Miami Republican Representative Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, who filed the bill in January following the various riots around the U.S. and at the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6.

Many Democrats regard the legislation as suppression of the First Amendment, but Fernandez-Barquin insists that adding the word violent to the definition would make it that much harder to prosecute peaceful protestors who might become caught up in violent protests.

“In a situation like this the only way to judge someone’s intent is by their actions, And if their actions are peaceful, then they will be peaceful. And no, there would not be liability. I think it is incredibly disingenuous to refer to ‘protesters’ (and not) ‘rioters’ … This protects peaceful protests. The first responsibility of government is to make sure our residents are safe,” Fernandez-Barquin said.

Many Democrats believe that the bill is an ill attempt to silence the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement after the demonstrations that took place last summer. They said it would infringe racially targeted free speech.

Democratic lawmakers believe this bill could lead to an increase in arrests of Black and Brown citizens demonstrating against continued injustices.

“This misguided proposal is a direct attack on the constitutional right to peaceably assemble, and the discussion around it seems to be setting up a false equivalency between the mostly peaceful protests of last summer and the horrific acts of January 6. This is an insult to the generations before us for whom peaceful protest was the only path to change the unequal conditions of their time. They moved us forward — let’s not allow this legislation to move us backward,” state Senator Loraine Ausley, a Democrat from Tallahassee, said on her Facebook page.