Republican Sen. Danny Burgess ushered a bill onto the Senate floor Wednesday that would stiffen penalties against rioters in Florida, marking the proposal’s latest step toward the Governor’s desk.
The bill (HB 1) requires little introduction in most political circles including the Legislature’s upper chamber.
As Gov. Ron DeSantis’ flagship proposal, the bill has garnered national attention throughout the committee process and is arguably the most contested proposal of the 2021 Legislative Session.
The 61-page bill, which now awaits a Senate vote, contains a slew of provisions. Among them, the proposal would intensify several criminal and civil penalties against rioters while also creating a new penalty called “mob intimation.”
According to a staff analysis, mob intimation 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.”
The bill would also allow state leaders to overrule a municipality’s decision to cut a police department’s budget. Under that provision, a state attorney or council member can appeal a budget cut to the Governor and Cabinet.
Democrats filed 16 amendments, underscoring the all-hands-on-deck approach taken by the minority party.
Democratic Sen. Shevron Jones proposed several amendments including one that would remove a provision requiring those arrested during an unlawful assembly to remain in jail until their first appearance.
“We have heard a lot from law enforcement that a cooling down period is important,” Burgess rebutted.
Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo filed an amendment that would have prohibited a person from protesting outside another person’s home. Speaking on the Senate floor, Pizzo, a former prosecutor, said he and his chief of staff came under threat last year.
A police officer arrested on child molestation charges, Pizzo explained, offered another officer $47,000 for their death.
“No matter how firmly we may disagree about an issue, you don’t take it to someone’s home,” Pizzo told lawmakers.
Notably, Republicans rejected all amendments from Democrats.
Burgess, who represent Zephyrhills, fielded dozens of questions from lawmakers during the floor session.
Democrats asked why the bill is needed. They note Florida was mostly spared from violent demonstrations during the spree of summer riots spurred by fatal police interactions in 2020. Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson asked whether the bill takes into account aggressive police officers.
“Do you think a police officer, being human, can contribute to a disorderly situation, either by conduct or expression,” Rouson asked.
Burgess noted the possibility but contended the matter is outside the scope of the bill. He repeatedly encouraged legislation that would promote more police training.
Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell, meanwhile, questioned whether the bill would have stifled civil rights icons such as Martin Luther King Jr.
“If these individuals were to participate in a protest in which some kind of violence broke out, would they have been criminalized?” Powell asked.
Burgess contended the legislation would not impact peaceful demonstrations.
Wednesday’s line of questioning surmised many of the similar themes heard throughout the committee process.
Proponents of the bill contend the legislation is needed to protect law enforcement and law-abiding citizens.
Critics, meanwhile, argue the bill is suppressive, unlawful and will disproportionately impact minorities. They also argue provisions such as the budget reduction appeal encroaches on home rule.
The Senate is expected to hear the bill on Thursday.