On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1, known as the “anti-riot” bill into law during a press conference in Winter Haven.
Surrounding DeSantis was Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and other deputies where DeSantis said, “If you look at the breadth of this particular piece of legislation, it is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country. There’s just nothing even close.”
The law will enhance penalties for criminals committing acts of violence during a riot as well as requiring the state to approve law enforcement cuts for municipalities.
“This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished,” DeSantis said. “Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police.”
The bill was debated largely along party lines last week with almost all Senate republicans voting in favor of the bill and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-24), the lone GOP defector, siding with all Senate democrats in opposition.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only democrat elected to statewide office, went to Twitter to voice her opposition.
She said DeSantis’ “priority legislation is a flagrant assault on freedom that criminalizes peaceful protests. This will move Florida backwards on social justice, silencing voices only asking that their lives be valued the same as other Americans.”
Violence is already illegal — @GovRonDeSantis's priority legislation is a flagrant assault on freedom that criminalizes peaceful protests.
This will move Florida backwards on social justice, silencing voices only asking that their lives be valued the same as other Americans.
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) April 19, 2021
Before the signing, Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-35) said in an official statement the new legislation, “undermines every Floridian’s constitutional rights, and it is disgusting that the GOP would rather empower vigilantes and silence voices than listen to the majority of Floridians who oppose this dangerous bill. The governor’s spectacle is a distraction that will only further disenfranchise Black and brown communities.”
Other critics of the legislation said the new law is a potential infringement on first amendment rights.
“This is not an anti-riot proposal, it is actually an anti-protest proposal,” said Ben Frazier, advocate for the Northside Coalition, a non-profit based out of Jacksonville. “This is just a republican effort designed to stop the rising tide of protest prompted by the police murder of George Floyd. The governor wants to criminalize peaceful protestors who are merely exercising their constitutional rights. This is dog whistle, red meat legislation prepared for consumption by the governor’s radical and far right political base.”
During the press conference, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-65), Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis all criticized how other cities and states handled the riots of last summer. Other republicans reiterated during debate the legislation is meant to crack down on violence and is not politically motivated.
Grant Holcomb is a reporter at the Florida Capital Star and the Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.