Florida House Approves Anti-Rioting Bill
The bill would create new crimes related to violent protests and make it harder for local governments to reduce police spending.
The Republican-controlled Florida House on Friday voted 76 to 39 to approve a controversial proposal that would create new crimes related to violent protests, enhance riot-related penalties and make it harder for local governments to reduce police spending.
The far-reaching plan has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats, civil-rights organizations and First Amendment advocates.
The bill proposes a host of changes to criminal and civil laws and would create new crimes, including “mob intimidation.”
Supporters of the legislation, including Representative Cord Byrd, say the state must ensure that wrongdoers are punished.
“You can peaceably assemble in Florida," Byrd said. "You can exercise your right to speech and to protest peaceably, but you cannot commit acts of violence. You cannot harm other people. You cannot destroy their property. You cannot destroy their lives.”
During debate lasting more than four hours, Democrats including Representative Evan Jenne argued that the bill goes too far and could criminalize civil disobedience.
“Our nation is reeling," Jenne said. "We all have to admit that fact. Right now, what we need is unity from leaders. We need solidarity, not divisiveness. You know that millions and millions of Floridians are against this bill, yet you choose to ram it down their throats.”
The bill would also provide what is known as an “affirmative defense” to defendants in civil lawsuits involving deaths, injuries or property damage if the injuries or damages were sustained while the plaintiffs were participating in “furtherance of a riot.”
The bill also addresses the destruction of memorials, after Confederate statues were torn down or destroyed in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
A similar bill thus far has not received a hearing in the Senate.