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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida Anti-Riot Bill In DeSantis’ Hands

four men standing wearing black t-shirts
News Service of Florida
Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus wear black T-shirts to protest the passage of a sweeping law-and-order package that would create a new crime of “mob intimidation,” enhance riot-related penalties and impose new sanctions when monuments or statues are destroyed.

DeSantis and other Republicans say the bill cracks down on violent protests, but Democrats and civil-rights groups argue it will infringe on First Amendment rights.

Gov. Ron DeSantis will have until April 23 to sign a controversial law-and-order bill that is one of his top priorities for the legislative session.

DeSantis formally received the bill (HB 1) from the Legislature on Friday, a day after it got final approval from the Senate. He announced a framework for the legislation in September, after protests across the nation in the aftermath of the May death of George Floyd, a 36-year-old Black man who died after then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for at least eight minutes.

DeSantis and other Republicans contend the bill is needed to crack down on violent protests, but Democrats and civil-rights groups argue it would infringe on First Amendment rights and disproportionately lead to crackdowns on Black protesters.

The proposal, titled “Combating Public Disorder,” would create a new crime of “mob intimidation,” enhance penalties for riot-related looting and violence and create an affirmative defense for people who injure or kill violent protesters.

During a debate Thursday, Senate sponsor Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, argued that the proposal would not quash First Amendment rights, which include the right to peacefully protest.

“What this bill does not protect is violence,” he said. “Rights have limits, and violence is where the line is drawn. This bill is about preventing violence.”

But Democrats said, in part, that the bill would criminalize protests against racial injustice.

“At its core, House Bill 1 is racist,” Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said. “I stand here with my colleagues today, not just mourning the death of our First Amendment rights but also mourning the death of our democracy as it slowly slips away from us.”

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