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Politics / Issues

DeSantis Wants Special Session For Measure Cracking Down On Protests; Dems Hit Back

Demonstrators hold signs and march during a protest over the death of George Floyd,Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Demonstrators hold signs and march during a protest over the death of George Floyd,Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The move comes as President Donald Trump, the man who propelled Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Governor’s Mansion, campaigns for reelection on a “law and order” platform.

With Governor Ron DeSantis pushing to crack down on what he calls “disorderly assemblies,” he wants to expedite the effort. The governor on Tuesday suggested legislators should take the issue up when they return to Tallahassee in November.

When the legislature convenes for a previously-scheduled organizational session, DeSantis says he’s spoken with the Republican incoming leaders of both chambers about considering his new priority legislation.

“It’s going to have broad support I think certainly from the Republican caucuses in both chambers,” the governor said Tuesday.

When he rolled out what’s dubbed the “Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” DeSantis underscored “that will probably be the boldest and most comprehensive piece of legislation to address these issues anywhere in the country.”

The measure would create a six-month mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone who strikes an officer. It also makes it a felony to obstruct a roadway or deface monuments as part of a “violent or disorderly assembly.”

Going a step further, the proposal also withholds state funding and grants from local governments that attempt to slash law enforcement budgets.

The move comes as President Donald Trump, the man who propelled DeSantis to the Governor’s Mansion, campaigns for reelection on a “law and order” platform.

Democratic legislators are hitting back. Orlando Representative Anna Eskamani ripped the governor, after DeSantis called for a special session to take up the legislation. Eskamani says she and fellow Democrats have been calling for state lawmakers to convene for a special session – but for other reasons that she feels should take priority.

(DeSantis) doesn’t want us to actually address his terrible track record, or the terrible track record of the Republican Party of Florida, so he’s using law and order as an election stunt to distract and scare voters,” Eskamani said Tuesday. “As my colleagues already mentioned, there have been calls for a special session to address cases of police brutality and racial injustice already.”

Some Florida Democratic legislators also called for a special session to address the state’s beleaguered unemployment system during the height of job losses caused by COVID-19.

South Florida Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones, who is seeking a state Senate seat, called the legislation hypocritical, given Republicans’ usual position of being for small government.

“Republicans claim to be the party of liberty – be that, Republicans. But that’s not what you’re doing today,” Jones said. “What you have just done is a blatant lie, as they pick and choose which people and which communities are afforded civil liberties. And this cannot stand.”

A coalition of activist groups from across the state also held a Zoom call Tuesday to blast the governor’s proposal. Bacardi Jackson, a managing attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, was among them.

“The language appears to be intentionally broad and vague, to add confusion about what conduct would be deemed illegal, further adding to fear, chilling free speech and assemblies, and also leaving broad discretion in a system that reeks with racial bias and uneven enforcement.”

DeSantis’ proposal also goes after those who organize or fund demonstrations that get disorderly or violent. The legislation would impose RICO liability, under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, for anyone found to be doing so.

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