Florida lawmakers look to pass measure on hate crimes, increased penalties after antisemitic incidents

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After incidents such as antisemitic messages reportedly being projected on buildings in Jacksonville, lawmakers Thursday called for passing a measure that would define certain acts as hate crimes and increase criminal penalties.

Under the bill (HB 269), people who take actions such as defacing or damaging religious cemeteries, projecting images of religious “animus” on property without permission or harassing others because of religious-based garments could be charged with third-degree felonies.

“I will not stand here and do nothing,” Rep. Mike Caruso, a Delray Beach Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said during a news conference. “I will not be complacent, and I will not sit around. For, with that attitude, are we just going to wait for these haters to start breaking the glass windows and storefronts of Jewish store owners again, like they did in the past, before we wake up?”

The legislation, filed this month, follows a series of antisemitic incidents in the state.

As an example, an antisemitic message was projected on the outside of TIAA Bank Field, and antisemitic banners have been hung from interstate overpasses.

Antisemitic flyers have also been distributed in Jewish communities in South Florida.

Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who is Jewish, said hate speech and hate crimes have made many Jewish people in Florida feel unsafe.

“The reason we must speak is that silence in the face of evil is evil itself,” Fine said. “What we are doing here today is we are saying in the Florida House, that there is no room for this.”