Lawsuit against anti-riot bill’s ‘defund the police’ provision advances
Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis 2
Five of the eight cities that filed complaints were OK’d to make their case.

A Tallahassee circuit judge is letting a lawsuit against the “defund the police” provision in Florida’s anti-riot law move forward.

Judge J. Lee Marsh of the 2nd Judicial Circuit on Tuesday allowed five of the eight cities that sued the state to continue their challenge against a provision that creates a pathway for the state to overrule a city’s decision to reduce its law enforcement budget. The three remaining cities will have an opportunity to appeal to be added to the case.

The law (HB 1), which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in August 2021, sharpens penalties against rioters in Florida. Included within the measure is an attempt to curb “defunding” the police by allowing state leaders to override budget reductions a city may propose for law enforcement.

“This goes to the heart of our state constitution, our system of government, the division of powers between the parties of government, the division of powers between the municipalities and the state,” Marsh told the courtroom. “I can’t think of anything more important to the people of this state, to their elected leaders, both at the local and state level.”

The lawsuit is a second angle critics have taken against the anti-riot law. A separate case over First Amendment concerns is currently working its way through federal court.

It also is the latest case that addresses home rule versus the state’s right to override laws passed and policies enacted at the local levels, a practice called preemption.

If a municipality proposes a budget that cuts law enforcement funding, the anti-riot law gives State Attorneys or City or County Commissioners 30 days to file an appeal to the budget after the proposal is posted online.

The municipality would then have five days to respond to the appeal, and the Governor’s Office would conduct a hearing on the appeal before making a recommendation to the Administration Commission on how to handle the budget reduction. The Administration Commission may approve, amend or modify the budget proposal. That Commission’s findings are deemed final.

DeSantis, who has touted Florida as a “law and order state,” has routinely criticized calls to “defund the police,” a slogan for a left-of-center policy to divert law enforcement resources into community support services and other forms of public safety. The anti-riot law has helped the Republican Governor claim that “in Florida, we don’t defund the police” as he gears up for re-election.

Law enforcement reform advocates have called the slogan misleading. The Public Rights Project’s Jonathan Miller, an attorney who represents the cities, told reporters that the case is about building a movement.

“This is about vibrancy in local communities and the ability for advocates working with local electeds to express their community preferences through policy reform, and so this is about fighting for the ability to build movement at the local level that can then take hold in other places,” Miller said.

“Right now, that movement is being stifled by the Governor and this administration through HB 1 and many other tactics that are being employed.”

Gainesville, Lake Worth Beach, Lauderhill, Miramar, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Tallahassee and Wilton Manors sued DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and the state Administration Commission over the law, which the Legislature passed at the Republican Governor’s behest.

However, Marsh dismissed the case against Moody and determined that Lake Worth, North Miami and North Miami Beach had only expressed a “generalized chilling fear” and did not face a threat of harm.

“Every city has a unique and important perspective to add to the litigation in terms of their experience in terms of their communities, their values, their experience with law enforcement budgets,” Miller said. “Being able to provide that breadth of perspective and experience is useful to the court to understanding all the different harms that befall the cities as a result of HB 1.”

Attorney Marissa Roy, also with the Public Rights Project, added that the provision infringes on cities’ right to build a budget, a core act of self-governance.

“Now there is a process by which the state can unilaterally take these budgets on appeal and unilaterally revise them line by line with regard to the law enforcement budget, which will affect the other department budgets as well,” Roy said.

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey, Tallahassee City Commissioner Jack Porter and other municipal officials attended the hearing.

Porter told reporters the anti-riot law has affected the city’s plans for a mobile mental health unit and the source of the funding. The law complicates whether the funding would come from the Tallahassee Police Department or remain separate.

“We’re actually voting on our budget — we’re having a final hearing tomorrow,” Porter said. “So it’s something that has not finally been decided, but it’s certainly something that we’ve considered in moving forward.”

DeSantis announced his vision for the bill the summer after nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, some of which turned violent or into riots. George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin sparked the protests, and DeSantis signed the bill in the days ahead of Chauvin’s eventual guilty verdict, citing the possibility of riots.

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.

The United Nations weighed in on the anti-riot law last month. The U.N.’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination flagged the law as overly restrictive on the right to peacefully assemble. The committee’s report also raised concerns about the use of force in the U.S. against those protesting for their rights.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


2 comments

  • Elliott Offen

    September 20, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    The riot bil is just part of neverending right wing political theatre. The bill wouldn’t stop protests or even violence if people are really pissed about something. Funny thing is that he didn’t say much about the riot at the Capitol…the one that interrupted a democratic process. And why don’t his election police go hound Donald Trump..who tried to claim stolen election in hopes he could stay in power after he was voted out. Biggest election thief ever is in Florida.. Mar-a-Lago..

    Reply

    • Koggerj

      September 26, 2022 at 10:11 pm

      Biden stole the election.

      The blm terror riots of 2020 show this bill is needed at the cultural Marxists of the democrat party allowed it.

      Reply

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