‘This is about common sense’: Wilton Simpson says anti-riot legislation isn’t politically motivated
Image via Jason Delgado.

Wilton Simpson
'I am really not sure how that became political at all.'

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.

HB 1 faces strong opposition from Democrats and progressives. During the bill’s first committee hearing, lawmakers heard from more than 69 speakers, many of whom decried the legislation. 

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.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the state capital for Florida Politics. After a stint with the U.S. Army, Jason attended the University of Central Florida where he studied American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. Throw him a line at jason@floridapolitics.com or on Twitter at @JasonDelgadoFL.


6 comments

  • Sonja Fitch

    February 18, 2021 at 3:31 pm

    Duffus Desantis ,a good little GOPQ dobee is using exaggerated incidences to move a bs conservative overreaction! Vote Democrat up and down ballot for the elections in 2022!

    Reply

  • Not BLM

    February 18, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    Well, it’s like this Wilton: You’re a powerful politician. Politicians, especially those with lots of power, don’t like it when the people disagree with them and take to the streets. So you want to pass a bill that will keep people down, keep them from expressing themselves freely. That’s why this is politically motivated. You’re a politician, you don’t like free speech, so you’re pushing to keep people quiet. When you do something since you’re a politician, that makes it politically motivated.

    Reply

  • ROTBERG

    February 18, 2021 at 4:49 pm

    Only a moron would vote blue

    Reply

  • Palmer Tom

    February 18, 2021 at 6:58 pm

    Yeah,right. This is about imprisoning dissidents. Same thing happened during Vietnam protests.

    Reply

  • Sonja Fitch

    February 19, 2021 at 5:44 am

    ROTBERG. Hush hush sweet ROTBERG! Vote Democrat up and down ballot for the elections in 2022!

    Reply

  • Ron Ogden

    February 19, 2021 at 8:46 am

    I’ve heard frustrated Demis say that this bill is about people ‘taking to the streets’ a la sans coulottes of 250 years ago. Of course, it is not. It is about pointless violence and destruction visited on the innocent by the insanely angry. The difference is that protestors protest in the daylight and do it legally. This bill is meant to control the vandals who strike and night and from behind hoods and masks.

    Reply

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