The House passed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-riot bill on Friday, marking an end to the chamber’s months-long battle over the nationally renown legislation.
The bill (HB 1) is among the most contentious proposals of the 2021 Legislative Session. Lawmakers debated the legislation for five hours before recording a 76-39 party-line vote.
Sponsored by Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin of Miami-Dade, the 61-page bill contains a slew of provisions aiming to thwart public disorder.
Among them, the bill would stiffen or create new penalties against rioters and allow state leaders to overrule a municipality’s decision to slash police budgets.
“If you break the law, you have to suffer the consequences,” Fernandez-Barquin said. “If not, what’s the purpose of having laws?”
The proposal, a Republican priority, motored through House committees. Throughout the process, outnumbered-Democrats struggled to slow or otherwise reshape the legislation.
Proponents of the bill contend the measure is needed to protect law enforcement and law-abiding citizens.
They point to the nationwide spree of riots and protests spurred by fatal police interactions over the summer, including the high-profile police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Notably, Republicans concede that Florida was mostly spared by the unrest.
“We can act before it’s too late,” Republican Rep. Cord Byrd of Jacksonville said. “We don’t need to have Miami, Orlando or Jacksonville become Kenosha or Seattle or Portland.”
In all, vandalism and looting throughout 140 U.S. cities resulted in $1 billion to $2 billion of paid insurance claims during the demonstrations, Axios reported.
“Bottom line is no one has a right to riot, no one has the right to destroy others’ property and no one has the right to physically endanger the life of another,” said Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville.
Critics, meanwhile, contend the bill is woefully broad.
They argue it is unlawful, suppressive of free speech and targeted at minorities.
“Silencing Black communities is a part of our country’s history,” said Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon of Jacksonville. “HB 1 is an attempt for us to return to that being the foundation of our policy.”
Republican Rep. Webster Barnaby of Deltona later pushed back against the claim.
Webster, a Black lawmaker, described the racism narrative as “absolutely repugnant.”
“You’ve got to use your intelligence a lot better,” Webster said. “It’s time to stop this constant refrain about racism. It’s crazy.”
Speaking after Barnaby, Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy said Republicans, including Rep. Michelle Salzman, strategized Webster as their “token Black Republican.”
Gasps echoed within the Chamber.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls interrupted Hardy and asked him to remain on the bill.
Critics also assert the bill would undermine home-rule.
Under the bill, state attorneys and local elected officials who vote against a city’s vote to slash law enforcement budgets can petition to the state.
Thereafter, the Governor and Cabinet would have authority to overturn the proposed reductions.
The provisions have angered many. Opponents to the bill flooded Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned’s inbox with more than 14,000 emails, Learned told lawmakers Friday.
“There are millions and millions of Floridians against this bill, and yet you choose to ram it down their throats,” House Minority Co-Leader Evan Jenne said during his debate.
DeSantis announced his vision for the bill amid former President Donald Trump’s reelection bid. The announcement also harmonized with the national media’s spotlight on the riots and protests.
Months later, Republican leaders unveiled the bill after rioters breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Several died in the siege including law enforcement officers.
Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando maintains the proposal is a “direct response” to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This bill offers zero solutions to address the racial injustices and unfair policing policies and inequities that are facing Black Americans,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando said. “In fact, HB1 makes them worse.”
The vote comes a day after Republicans tacked on several amendments that tighten the bill’s grip over demonstrators and municipalities and rejected Democrats’ attempts to soften the bill’s impacts.
The bill further proposes a new “mob intimidation” offense.
The offense would apply when three or more act “with a common intent, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person by force, or threat of force, to do any act or to assume or abandon a particular viewpoint,” according to the bill language.
It also intensifies penalties for battery, assault, or inciting a riot. A person arrested for unlawful assembly would remain in custody until their first appearance under the bill.
“The First Amendment is not a cloak of immunity,” said Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island, later adding, “throwing a brick through a window of a small business is not free speech. It is a crime. Hitting a police officer with a glass bottle is not free speech. It is a crime.”
Democrats’ have contended in the past those acts are already illegal.
Fernandez-Barquin’s proposal moves next to the Republican-controlled Senate.
If signed into law, the bill would take effect immediately.
(Images by Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)