Democrats are hitting back against the newly passed House Bill 1 in two ways: Questioning the constitutionality of the “anti-riot” bill and once again this Session, calling on corporations to denounce Republican-led legislation.
Democrats held a press conference Monday after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the contentious measure (HB 1).
Among the group of lawmakers and officials was Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat to win a statewide election in Florida since 2012 and a potential candidate for Governor in 2022.
Brandishing a printed list from the New York Times of corporations that have spoken out against voting legislation from various states this year, the Commissioner reiterated previous calls by state Democrats for corporations to now speak out against the anti-riot legislation.
“We need, right now, the corporations to use their political input and influence to step up and stop this,” Fried said. “If this Legislature won’t listen to we the people, maybe they’ll listen to you, the corporations.”
“Florida could lose billions in economic impact from world class events, leaving the state from sports tournaments to major convention. Other states have seen this happen firsthand,” Fried said referring to Major League Baseball moving the All-Star game from Atlanta after contentious voting legislation cleared the Georgia General Assembly.
Lawmakers also called the bill’s constitutionality into question.
“I have concerns as a lawyer that it will chill the right to free speech and make it such that people, especially Black and Brown people, are not exercising their right to peacefully protest,” said Tampa Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who has emerged as a leader in the opposition to the bill. “So, I think you could see constitutional challenges in that way.”
Driskell added that a provision in the bill preempting police budgets could be challenged as well.
Fried predicted the lawsuits will come quickly.
“I would be surprised if they’ve not already been drafted, knowing this bill was coming down the pipeline,” Fried said, adding that she does not have any firsthand information.
Driskell also questioned the ability of law enforcement to properly enforce what she called “fuzzy language” in the bill.
“What does that mean, if you have people who are protesting peacefully, and then some people start engaging in wrongdoing at the same event at the same protest? How are our law enforcement officers supposed to handle that? Because the language in HB 1 leaves it quite open to interpretation,” Driskell said.
Fried questioned the ability of law enforcement to fairly apply the new law.
“Unfortunately, laws are not applied equally. When law enforcement has complete discretion, as you saw on the insurrection at the Capitol, you see how laws can be applied differently depending on your background and depending on the color of your skin, and that is my greatest fear here,” Fried said.
Fried’s concerns mark another area where the Cabinet member disagrees with Gov. DeSantis. Flanked by law enforcement and Republican leadership at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Monday morning, DeSantis signed HB1 calling it “the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.”
“We believe this bill shows the state of Florida takes public safety very seriously,” DeSantis said. “Anybody who wears the uniform in service of protecting the public, this bill will make very clear the state of Florida stands with you.”
The hotly contested bill resulted in hours of debate in both chambers of the Legislature.
The 60-page bill would stiffen or create new penalties against rioters and allow state leaders to overrule a municipality’s determination of police budgets, among other provisions that supporters of the bill say will combat public disorder.
Fried has been critiquing the Governor and the Republican-led Legislature all Session long.
She has not formally announced a run for Governor, but she has been assembling a campaign team and soliciting donations for her political committee, Florida Consumers First, based on a March poll that put her neck and neck with Gov. DeSantis in a possible match up for Governor in 2022.