Rep. Renner weighs in on controversial ‘anti-mob’ bill

Republican member of the Florida House represents southern St. Johns and Flagler counties

Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, during a special session of the Legislature in 2017. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests across the country, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been publically pushing legislation that would impose felony-level penalties on anyone who damages property, causes injury or destroys public property during a protest.

The controversial ‘anti-mob’ bill has faced strong opposition, including in Duval County, from those who say it would limit First Amendment rights and allow bystanders to shoot and kill looters.

Republican Rep. Paul Renner, represents Florida’s 24th District — which includes all of Flagler County, southern St. Johns County and northern Volusia County — and a powerful voice in the Florida House of Representatives. He told Kent Justice during a taping of This Week in Jacksonville that he supports any legislation that would deter political violence.

“We have to draw a bright line and I think everybody agrees that the freedom of speech is absolute, and has to be protected in any kind of legislation, but it also is a true statement that we cannot have political violence,” said Renner, the Florida House speaker-designate for 2022-24. “It simply says, if you want to advocate, you have to advocate in a non-violent way. And when that advocacy turns to violence and in particular we saw over the summer and on January 6, you know, police officers being attacked by protesters. That is not a peaceful protest, that is not the First Amendment, that is political violence that we see in other countries and we don’t want it here.”

READ: Full text of HB 1

The 60-page bill would enhance penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest, not allow people arrested during such a demonstration to be released from jail before a first court appearance and create new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration. It would also strip local governments of civil liability protections if they interfere with law enforcement’s efforts to respond to a violent protest and add language to state law that could force local governments to justify a reduction in law enforcement budgets.

The proposal would also make it a second-degree felony to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events. That would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“The League of Women Voters of Florida strongly believes that this piece of legislation politicizes the right to protest and disregards the protections provided by the First Amendment. One cannot stand for freedom or liberty if you oppose free speech,” President of the Women Voters of Florida Patricia Brigham said.

In a House committee session in Tallahassee last month, 69 people spoke out about the bill. It passed the committee 11-6.

“Obviously, we’ll go through the legislative process. We do want to hear from people that have any concerns at all about the specifics. And you know, think of a piece of legislation as a potter’s wheel, and it comes out kind of clunky sometimes and we kind of shape it and try to bring it into a position that people can be proud of and feel comfortable that we have landed in the right spot,” Renner said.

Renner was also asked about how the coronavirus will affect the upcoming Legislative session as well as working to pass bipartisan legislation on This Week in Jacksonville.

You can watch the full interview Sunday at 9 a.m. on Channel 4 and at noon on CW17.

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