House passes bill hiking penalties for disrupting live sports, entertainment
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 1/4/23-Rep. Taylor Yarkosky, R-Montverde, during the Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

There have been numerous instances in recent years of people interrupting live events for financial gain.

Legislation hiking penalties for people who run onto football fields and concert stages is close to crossing the proverbial finish line after streaking through the House with overwhelming support.

The House voted 109-3 for the measure (HB 319), which would make interfering with live sports and entertainment a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,500 in fines and a year in jail.

The same penalty would apply to people who throw objects onto a field or stage, or attempt to strike players, coaches or entertainers. Any money gained from the notoriety those interruptions generate would be subject to seizure by the state.

The bill, whose Senate twin (SB 764) cleared all the committees to which it was assigned and now awaits a full chamber vote, would create even steeper punishment for paying someone to interrupt a live game, concert or show.

A business or person that does so would face a third-degree felony charge, punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and five years in prison for the first offense.

The charge would not apply to someone who merely encourages or dares someone to run onto a field.

“We have a problem in our sporting arenas and our concert venues, et cetera, where bad actors are hijacking these moments, these events, for indecent exposure and, most importantly, corrupt financial gain,” the bill’s sponsor, Monteverde Republican Rep. Taylor Yarkosky, said while discussing the bill in committee last month.

The bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Tallahassee Republican Sen. Corey Simon, a former NFL player, noted earlier this week that there has been “a significant increase” in people disrupting live events.

“At the same time, other people and some companies have encouraged or incentivized this behavior,” he said.

HB 319 passed by a 109-3 vote, with just Democratic Reps. Ashely Gantt, Michael Gottlieb and Michele Rayner-Goolsby voting “no.”

Gottlieb, a lawyer in private life, said he supported the bill in concept but worried the provision allowing the state to take away money a person gains from interrupting a live event could attract lawsuits. He suggested forced forfeiture of the money is a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which protects citizens from excessive punishment.

“I think it’s going to be problematic and create litigation for this bill moving forward,” he said.

Under current state law, people who interfere with live sports or entertainment events are subject to charges of simple trespassing and fines of $500 or less. Florida has no ban for incentivizing such behavior.

Disrupting events and harassing players to gain brief notoriety are hardly new phenomena. Records of people doing so in the nude — an act called streaking — date back to 1799.

But there’s been a disturbing rise in a few less time-tested trends: people paying fans online to run onto fields and stages, fans setting up conditions so they’ll make money off the misdeed, and players and entertainers taking it upon themselves to stop them.

Recent examples include:

— Boca Raton man Yuri Andrade, who interrupted the Super Bowl in 2021 by running onto the field in a neon pink leotard. He later claimed to have done so after placing a $50,000 wager that the game would have a streaker.

— A fan running onto the field during a January 2022 NFL game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, whose wide receiver, Stefon Diggs, knocked the man down. It was later revealed the man did so on a $1,000 TikTok bet.

— An October 2022 incident in which Bobby Wagner of the Los Angeles Rams tackled a fan in Santa Clara who was protesting for Direct Action Everywhere. The organization later filed a police report accusing Wagner and fellow Rams linebacker Takk McKinley, who helped take down the fan, of “blatant assault.”

— An incident in July 2022, when a security guard accidentally hit Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello while chasing down a fan who jumped on the stage in Canada.

If passed and signed into law as-is by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the legislation would go into effect Oct. 1.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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