Florida House and Senate split on response to 2020 civil unrest

Protesters and clergyman demonstrate against police brutality and racism on June 7 in Hollywood, Florida.
Protesters and clergyman demonstrate against police brutality and racism on June 7 in Hollywood, Florida. (Johnny Louis/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Senate and House are split on how to respond to the civil unrest spurred by the death of George Floyd last year.

The Florida House is moving full steam ahead with legislation that would raise penalties for crimes committed during a riot, but the Senate has taken a different approach, pushing a police reform bill that reflects some of the concerns raised during the civil unrest in 2020.

“I think law enforcement is looking, not for bills and for policy that creates a further divide between the community and law enforcement, but things that bring us together,” said Senator Jason Pizzo.

Pizzo, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, is sponsoring the policing reform package.

“This is everyone’s opportunity, basically not to have short-term memories. You know again, in May and early June, everybody, both sides of the isle came out and said these atrocities need to stop, we need to improve the situation. Here’s your opportunity,” said Pizzo.

It would mandate implicit bias and de-escalation training.

“At the very least, let’s have a standard threshold of best practices and promulgate them statewide,” said Pizzo.

It also creates a duty for officers to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force and bans chokeholds in most situations.

The police reform bill is being held up in the House by the prime co-sponsor of the anti-rioting legislation.

Likewise, the anti-rioting bill is being blocked in the Senate by the sponsor of the police reform bill.

Thus far, the two sides seem unwilling to compromise.

House Criminal Justice Chair Cord Byrd is skeptical of the police reforms proposed in the Senate.

“We’re trying to get at the bad ones, not impugn the behavior of all police officers,” said Byrd.

When asked if a deal could be worked out between the two chambers, Byrd said one was currently not in the works, but left open the possibility.

“That’s what the end of the session is for,” said Byrd.

Pizzo was more direct.

“I don’t horse trade. There’s no bartering going on. There’s no communication. I’ve actually never spoken to Cord Byrd,” said Pizzo.

Pizzo noted there’s only one criminal justice meeting left in the Senate.

The “anti-rioting bill” is not on the agenda.

Byrd said there would be multiple amendments made to the anti-rioting legislation when it’s heard by the full House.

Whether it will be enough to garner support in the Senate is an open question.