House approves ‘anti-riot’ bill

Florida House speaker Chris Sprowls presides over HB 1 debate. Courtesy of Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat

Florida House Bill 1, also referred to as the ‘anti-rioting’ bill, passed in the House of Representatives on March 26. HB 1 gives law enforcement the power to determine if a protest is threatening and allows them to arrest at their own discretion.

The bill, named “Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” was introduced by Gov. Ron Desantis in September 2020 to address how state laws should deal with protests that become violent.

Supporters of the bill feel that it is necessary to protect law enforcement and discourage rioting. Critics, however, see the bill as an infringement on their First Amendment right to protest.

“We’re just basically putting a law in the books saying that type of angry violent protest political angry speech is not welcome in the state of Florida,” Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Jimmy Patronis says.

Critics of the bill have voiced concern that the bill will undermine their right to peacefully protest. Some feel that the bill is designed to target black and brown people who gather to protest.

Supporters of HB 1 say that the language of the bill does not address any racial groups and that the language of the bill only speaks on rioters and violent protesters.

Rep. Angela Nixon argued that the bill will stifle the free speech of black people and has a racist connotation to it.

“This is not a bill that has any other group in mind other than black lives. This bill will legalize racism by hindering freedom of speech for a select few,” Nixon argues.

Tallahassee Community Action Committee Vice President Delilah Pierre hopes that the bill does not pass through the senate. Pierre says she has been petitioning the bill since December 2020 with statewide rallies.

“I think it is important to point out that this bill has very little support. This bill has extreme consequences for organizers and anyone who wants to protest,” Pierre says. “When you’re arrested at a protest you can just be put in jail.”

There will be a statewide day of protest against the bill on April 10 that the Tallahassee Community Action Committee will be participating in to express that the bill is a rejection of the First Amendment.

“This bill is designed to keep us in check, to keep us fearful, to scare us from speaking out about the fact that Black lives matter,” Nixon said.