(The Center Square) – Companion bills seeking to toughen Florida laws regarding violent protests and make it difficult for local governments to trim law enforcement spending have been filed for the legislative session that begins March 2.
The proposed Combating Public Disorder Act was introduced by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, in the Senate as Senate Bill 484 and in the House by Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami-Dade, as House Bill 1.
The 60-page Combating Public Disorder Act, which was filed Wednesday, is similar to the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act envisioned by Gov. Ron DeSantis in September in the wake of nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The governor condemned President Donald Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol and disrupted Wednesday’s Electoral College certification, noting the attack justifies his anti-mob initiative.
“I hope now we’ll get even more support for my legislation because it’s something that needs to be done,” DeSantis said. “You can have strong views. You can be disappointed in the election. You can be disappointed in whatever, but you can’t just go in and ransack public places like that.”
The Combating Public Disorder Act would enhance penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest, not allow people arrested during demonstrations to be released from jail before a court appearance and create new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.
Under the bill, it would be a second-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events.
The act would strip local governments of liability protections if they interfere with law enforcement during violent protests, and it forces municipalities to justify proposed reductions in law enforcement budgets. Under the bill, individual constituents can appeal to the Florida Administration Commission for a hearing to approve, modify or amend police budgets.
Not included in the act is language from DeSantis’ initiative that would have expanded Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law to allow a person to shoot and kill anyone presumed to be engaged in looting or vandalism in connection with a disorderly protest.
“This legislation makes it clear that here in Florida, criminals who seek to thwart peaceful protests by willfully inciting violence, attacking law enforcement and destroying public or private property will be held accountable,” Burgess said.
“What I witnessed [Wednesday] in Washington was disgusting, and I repudiate the violence and destruction that took place there,” Fernandez-Barquin said. “It is never acceptable for a civil society to behave in this way, and this bill will ensure that it is unwelcome in Florida. It does not matter if you are Republican or Democrat, we are a society of laws, and all must follow the law.”
Some Democrats maintain suppressing protest, particularly by Black protesters, is the intent of the bills.
“The thing that gave birth to this idea of his and other Republicans in power in Tallahassee was to try to quash the voices of African Americans,” tweeted Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. “To compare anything that happened this summer with what happened [Wednesday], forget about apples and oranges. It’s the difference between a blackboard and a knife. It’s not even remotely similar.”
DeSantis “is trying to re-write history & say his anti-protest bill is in response to what happened (at) Capitol Hill,” tweeted Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “Lies. It’s about scoring political points off racial tension & consenting to uneven application of law based on skin color. Maybe focus on COVID-19 instead?”
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