WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Standing with the incoming leaders of the Florida House and Senate and several sheriffs and police chiefs on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a bill to get tough with any protesters who attack police officers or cause property damage.
DeSantis said the legislation -- the Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act -- would call for anyone who throws an object at law enforcement officers, looting or damaging property would be held without bail before an initial hearing. If convicted, they would get a minimum sentence of six months.
While DeSantis said Florida hasn’t seen the type of violent protests that have occurred in other states, he said he wants to make sure they don’t happen here. He called the plan a “very robust package” that is stronger than proposals in other parts of the country.
“What it is saying is we’re not going to let Florida go down the road where some of these places have gone,” DeSantis said, referencing the problems Portland, Minneapolis, New York and Los Angles have had with unrest in the wake of protests of the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement officers.
The bill would make charges for violent protests and looting third-degree felonies and would make blocking a highway, harassing people in public places or destroying public property, including monuments such as Confederate statues, criminal acts.
The plan would also establish that drivers are not liable for injuries or deaths “caused if fleeing for safety from a mob,” according to a news release issued by the governor’s office.
DeSantis also said law enforcement would use the RICO Act to prosecute any groups found to be funding or organizing protests that turn violent.
“Recently in our country we have seen attacks on law enforcement, we’ve seen disorder and tumult in many cities,” DeSantis said. “This has been a really, really sad chapter in American history.”
The governor also said any city that would reduce funding for law enforcement in response to current demands to defund the police is at risk of losing state funding.
While the top GOP leaders in the legislature appeared with DeSantis at Monday’s event, Florida’s Democrats challenged the governor to name a city in Florida where violent protests have been a problem in need of a solution.
“The governor is attaching himself to Donald Trump’s propaganda and manufacturing a non-existent law and order crisis in Florida,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, minority party leader of the Senate. “It’s political fearmongering to bolster a president’s re-election bid.”
DeSantis “trying to block people from using their 1st Amendment right to protest is a slap in the face to everyone fighting against injustice, especially Black people. It’s wrong and it’s unconstitutional,” state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat who is running for the state Senate, tweeted Monday afternoon.
Critics of the plan raised questions about its constitutionality and accused the governor of trying to undermine criminal justice reforms.
“Gov. DeSantis' proposal is undemocratic and hostile to Americans' shared values. This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Executive Director Micah Kubic said in a prepared statement.
News Service of Florida contributed to this story.