Flanked by lawmen and police union heads, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Monday that he says will combat riots, even as critics contend it stifles protests and free speech.
“You’re going to be held accountable,” DeSantis said.
Arguably DeSantis’ signature bill this Legislative Session, the legislation requires those arrested for street violence to stay in jail until first appearance and protects police budgets from cuts by allowing local lawmakers to appeal proposed reductions to the Governor and his Cabinet.
Under the law, state attorneys and members of governing bodies who object to reducing operational budgets of municipal law enforcement agencies can appeal to the state Administration Commission, made up of the Governor, the Attorney General, the Chief Financial Officer and the Agriculture Commissioner.
“This bill actually prevents against local government defunding law enforcement. We’ll be able to stop it at the state level,” DeSantis said. “It’s an insane theory. It’s not going to be allowed to ever carry the day in the state of Florida.”
But critics of the measure say it will impede local officials’ efforts to redirect law-enforcement spending toward other services, such as mental-health workers.
The process to challenge police budgets creates “an unfunded mandate to our local governments requiring them to have to participate in this crazy, just very weird funding appeals process if they decide to make changes to their law enforcement budget,” Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat who is a lawyer, told reporters during a video conference call Monday.
The measure has been one of the 2021 Session’s most contentious issues, with all Republicans but one — Sen. Jeff Brandes — supporting it and all Democrats opposed.
The showcase legislation, introduced on the day of the U.S. Capitol riots, was in fact conceptually floated amid “defund the police” protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. The signing comes as violence escalates in Minneapolis ahead of the verdict in the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin.
The Governor messaged nationally Monday. He addressed the Chauvin case, saying it was “bungled” in Minnesota, addressing advice to protesters by Rep. Maxine Waters to “stay in the streets” and “get more confrontational.”
As is the case with so much of DeSantis’ work, HB 1 will be presented as a national model, another example of the war the Governor is fighting against what he calls left-wing overreach.
The conservative One America News Network was among those on hand Monday in Polk County.
For the Governor and the legislators, Monday’s signing gave them an opportunity to strike familiar notes.
“This is the strongest anti-riot/pro-law enforcement legislation in the country,” DeSantis said.
The Governor decried lowering police funding as an “insane theory” and says the bill gives the state “tools” to prevent it.
DeSantis also blasted as a “dereliction of duty” orders to law enforcement to stand down during riots, noting civil actions are permissible under this action against governments that don’t defend people or property.
“I think this bill shows the state of Florida takes public safety very seriously,” DeSantis said.
The Governor lauded legislative leadership. He credited Senate President Wilton Simpson with “being able to shepherd the bill through,” a seeming reference to how he did an end around on the committee process in his chamber to get the House product moved when the Senate bill could not.
DeSantis also lauded the support of House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
Sprowls noted that seven months ago, leadership “made a promise to Floridians” not to let Florida become the next Seattle or Portland.
“We’re happy today that we can deliver on this promise,” said a staccato Sprowls.
DeSantis invited Cabinet members to speak also.
Attorney General Ashley Moody lauded DeSantis for leading on the legislation.
“As protests erupted in Florida, those sometimes turned very violent toward law enforcement,” Moody said.
“They turned to the leadership in Florida and asked ‘please help us,”‘ she added.
CFO Jimmy Patronis also weighed in with supportive language, saying that “Florida is going to make it loud and clear that our laws are going to keep up with the times.”
“Businesses are not going to relocate to an area where they don’t feel their investment is safe,” contended Patronis.
Other familiar voices had their say also.
“Never have I seen the leadership I see with Gov. DeSantis, Speaker Sprowls, and President Simpson,” raved Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
“This bill is a model,” added Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey.
Senate sponsor Danny Burgess said the bill was “the least we could do to have (law enforcement)’s back during these challenging times. And House sponsor Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin spotlighted “the people adversely affected by the rioting” in his comments.
Democrats also questioned part of the law that takes away legal protections for municipalities if they prevent law enforcement’s ability to respond to “a riot or unlawful assembly.”
Under the new law, a municipality “has a duty” to allow local police “to respond appropriately to protect persons and property during a riot or unlawful assembly based on the availability of adequate equipment.”
A governing body that “breaches that duty” is “civilly liable for any damages including damages arising from personal injury, wrongful death, or property damages proximately caused by the municipality’s breach of duty,” the law says.
The provision holds local government officials accountable, DeSantis said Monday.
“If you’re derelict in your duty … if you tell law enforcement to stand down, then you’re responsible for the damage that ensues, and if someone’s been harmed or their property has been destroyed, then they can sue you for compensation,” he said.
Critics, meanwhile, were voluble even before the formal signing of the bill, even as they were not to be found in Imperial Polk for the signing.
Among them was Sen. Jason Pizzo, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. His committee blocked the Senate version of the legislation, ultimately to no avail.
“On April 19, 1775, local militiamen fought British soldiers in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, with the ‘shot heard round the world’ — the start of the Revolutionary War. April 19, 2021, DeSantis is likely to sign HB1 into law,” Pizzo tweeted.
“#HB1 is not going to change a single thing about us standing and taking it to the streets against the injustices in this country. Sign if you must, Gov. DeSantis, but this is 2021 not 1961,” tweeted Sen. Shevrin Jones.
“The party of ‘freedom’ cracking down on free speech,” asserted Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo.
Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani declared it a “sad day for Floridians’ First Amendment rights.”
“This is a dangerous precedent set by Governor DeSantis in the Sunshine State,” said Ron Be Gone Board Member and former Congressman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
More Democrats will likely have their say as the day progresses.
Content from the Associated Press and The News Service of Florida was used in this report.