In a move meant to uphold law and order and avoid a repeat of the summer of leftist riots seen last year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill which increases criminal penalties for crimes committed during riots and helps protect law enforcement agencies from local governments.
On Monday morning, during the signing ceremony, Gov. DeSantis declared that “It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country, and there’s just nothing even close.” The bill became law effective immediately.
The law, summarized here, hopes to prevent violent riots by criminalizing “violent or disorderly riots, obstructing roadways, destroying or toppling monuments, and harassment in public accommodations.” It also prohibits state funding to local governments who defund the police, as well as allowing victims of a violent riot to sue local governments for crimes relating to such riots.
The bill, first introduced after the summer of riots seen last year, was signed just days before the verdict of ex-cop Derek Chauvin is expected to be announced. Derek Chauvin is on trial for the murder of George Floyd last May. Cities around the country are anticipating mass protests and violent riots in the wake of the decision, with Minneapolis public schools closing for a few days and the NYPD telling officers that no unscheduled days off will be allowed.
Florida Senator Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills), the sponsor of the bill, believes it is necessary, in order to define what a riot is. “Not only did we do that to put the public on notice as to what constitutes a riot, but also to make it clear to both protester and law enforcement where that line in the law is drawn,” Burgess declared.
Conservative firebrand Rep. Anthony Sabatini has also come out strongly in defense of the bill. “It’s a bill that restores the rule of law here in the state of Florida,” he declared. In an acknowledgement of the surge of Black Lives Matter inspired violence seen last year, he declared that this bill is “going to put an end to a horrible trend that we saw developing last year.”
Although many democrats have decried the bill as an infringement of First Amendment Protections, proponents of the bill strongly disagree. Gov. DeSantis argues that this bill “strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble, while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished.”
“This bill does nothing to recede a person’s ability to protest, assemble, speak their mind or have a very passionate protest where they speak their mind or have large numbers. As long as they are not breaking the law this bill does not affect them,” explained Rep. Sabatini. When faced with claims that the bill’s only purpose is to quell peaceful protests, Sabatini shot back “That’s silly. That’s not real. If you don’t break the law, it’s not an attack on you.”
When compared with anti-riot measures in other states, Florida’s is by far the strongest. This is a continuing trend in Florida, with Gov. DeSantis leading the way on a multitude of conservative issues, possibly preparing for a 2024 Presidential campaign.