Senate President Wilton Simpson on Thursday disputed the notion that Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ prized anti-riot bill is somehow politically motivated.
Speaking to reporters at the Florida Capitol, Simpson defended the nationally debated legislation. The measure, proposed by Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin of Miami-Dade, would intensify legal penalties against rioters, vandals, and looters.
“I am really not sure how that became political at all,” Simpson said. “If you attack a law enforcement officer, there should be substantial penalties. If you destroy private property, there should be a substantial penalty for that. I think we should all be able to agree on those things.”
Simpson’s defense comes as Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature motors several hot-topic bills ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session. Republicans have also championed legislation to reign in Big Tech.
Simpson described the anti-riot bill as “common sense.”
The measure, HB 1, seeks to elevate consequences for battery, assault, or inciting a riot.
Further, it would require someone arrested for unlawful assembly to remain in custody until their first appearance.
Simpson said law enforcement deserves “strong laws” that offer protection.
“They are putting their lives on the line every day to protect us,” Simpson explained. “And so if somebody throws a water bottle that’s been frozen or an object or a brick or anything else, to the fullest extent of the law that should be looked into.”
DeSantis unveiled his vision for the legislation amid a spree of riots and protests spurred by fatal police interactions over the summer.
The summer demonstrations birthed the “defund the police” movement, a controversial movement to shift money away toward social services rather than law enforcement.
In turn, the bill would allow citizens to challenge reductions to local law-enforcement budgets and give the Governor and Cabinet the authority to overturn them.
Myriad groups and figures have decried the legislation including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Among their contentions, critics argue the measure would violate protesters’ First Amendment right to assembly and free speech.
Others fear the bill will disproportionately impact people of color.