Florida Senate to take up emotionally charged ‘anti-riot bill’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The full Senate is scheduled Wednesday to take up the bill (House Bill 1), which is one of the most emotionally charged issues of the 2021 session.

Republicans contend the bill, which in part would create a new crime of “mob intimidation” and enhance penalties on riot-related offenses, is needed to crack down on violent protests. But Democrats --- and particularly Black Democrats --- say it would chill free speech and have a disparately negative impact on Black people.

House Bill 1 would beef up penalties for crimes committed during a protest including,

  • the creation of “mob intimidation” felonies
  • municipalities would have to justify proposed cuts to police budgets.
  • people arrested during demonstrations would not be released from jail before a court appearance
  • destroying a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure that commemorates historical people or events would be a second-degree felony

Gov. Ron DeSantis has made a priority of such legislation since nationwide protests last year in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on his neck.

Even though Florida largely avoided violent protests, some say the bill is needed to stop violence before it happens.

Despite opposition from Democrats and civil-rights groups, the bill moved quickly through the House, passing in a party-line vote last month. But after the issue became stuck in a Senate committee, President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, used a procedural move to send it to the Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by one of his top lieutenants, Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel.

After a day-long meeting Friday, the committee voted 11-9 to approve the bill. Now it appears headed to passage by the full Senate --- and DeSantis’ desk.

If it becomes law, it takes effect immediately.


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