Republican lawmakers handed Gov. Ron DeSantis one of his top legislative priorities Thursday, with the Florida Senate giving final passage to a contentious law-and-order measure spawned by nationwide protests after last year’s death of George Floyd.
The sweeping proposal, titled “Combating Public Disorder,” would create a new crime of “mob intimidation,” enhance penalties for riot-related looting and violence and create an affirmative defense for individuals who injure or kill violent protesters.
The Senate devoted nearly three hours Thursday to an emotionally charged debate on the measure (HB 1), with a single Republican — Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg — ultimately crossing party lines and joining Democrats in voting against the bill.
Millions of Americans took to the streets following the death of Floyd, a 36-year-old Black man who died in May after then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for at least eight minutes. Chauvin is now on trial for Floyd’s alleged murder.
During Thursday’s Senate debate, Democrats made impassioned speeches as they attempted to paint a portrait of systemic racism’s impact on Black people.
“Those demonstrations were not just about George Floyd. Those demonstrations were built-up anger of 400 years of what Black Americans have been dealing with,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat who is Black. “You don’t want us in the streets. You don’t want us to kneel at (football) games. … So our response to the injustice is to protest, but your response is to criminalize it when the recourse for us is to turn to the streets to make our voices heard in this unjust system.”
DeSantis announced a framework for the legislation in September, as he drummed up political support for former President Donald Trump.
“We’ve seen disorder and tumult in many cities across the country,” DeSantis, flanked by law enforcement officers, told reporters during a Sept. 21 news conference in Winter Haven. “I think that this has been a really, really sad chapter in American history.”
The proposal followed Trump issuing a call-to-action to governors in the aftermath of protests that grew deadly last summer. But critics of DeSantis say the Republican governor will use it as an arrow in his conservative quiver as he seeks re-election next year.
“This is not a solution. This is a mail piece for a re-election, for a specific base that wants this,” Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, said.
The bill forced the Republican-controlled Senate to have an at-times uncomfortable conversation about racism, members on both sides of the aisle noted Thursday.
“I get it. And if I were in your shoes and I’d had your experience, I would be down on this bill today, too,” said Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, adding that he became “physically ill” when he saw the video of Floyd’s death.
“Can I tell you that this bill is not about racism? Not entirely. I can’t, no. But I do believe in my heart that at the end of the day, we are a nation and a country of law and order,” Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said before he voted in favor of the measure.
Bill sponsor Danny Burgess, an affable Zephyrhills Republican who is a U.S. Army Reserve officer, said he was speaking from the heart when he defended the proposal on Thursday.
“I understand that I will never know the pain and the reality that some know,” Burgess, a lawyer, said, adding, “although we may have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.”
“That injustice still exists whether it’s on the books or in our actions and our words and our deeds and our hearts. So we have to continue to fight against that,” he added.
Burgess argued that the proposal would not quash First Amendment rights, which include the right to peacefully protest.
“What this bill does not protect is violence,” he said. “Rights have limits, and violence is where the line is drawn. This bill is about preventing violence.”
The bill, passed in a party-line vote by the House last month, proposes a host of changes to criminal and civil laws. The new crime of “mob intimidation” would make it unlawful “for a person, assembled with two or more other persons and acting with a common intent, to use force or threaten to use imminent force, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will.”
The bill also addresses the destruction of “memorials,” an issue that has drawn heavy attention after statues of people associated with slavery were torn down or destroyed following Floyd’s death.
The bill would create a new felony crime that would prohibit people from defacing, damaging, destroying or pulling down memorials or historic property if the damage is more than $200. The bill would require people convicted of the crimes to pay for restoration or replacement of the property.
The measure also would create a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting” that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
House and Senate leaders released the proposal on Jan. 6, hours after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to prevent certification of states’ election results in Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden.
But Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, argued Thursday that the proposal “is not and never has been aimed at that insurrection.”
“It was always aimed at Black Lives Matter. It was dreamed up and carried out by individuals who never had to protest,” Thurston, who is Black, said. “The bill is designed to promote a personal agenda. It was designed to get at those individuals marching in the streets across this nation.”
Speaking to reporters following Thursday’s floor session, Thurston, Jones and several other Democratic senators donned black T-shirts atop their dress shirts to symbolize the passage of the controversial bill.
“At its core, House Bill 1 is racist,” Jones said. “I stand here with my colleagues today, not just mourning the death of our First Amendment rights but also mourning the death of our democracy as it slowly slips away from us.”
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
I get so tired of people always playing the race card. Gather peacefully, all colors, or go to jail. I don’t want Palm Coast to be like Portland, or Minneapolis, being looted and burned. Democrats seem to think that’s OK.
Michael Cocchiola says
Republicans think the Jan 6 insurrection is o.k. And I don’t want Palm Coast to become another Proud Boys/Oath Keeper rampage.
TRUMPLICANS seem to think that storming the Capital Building while Congress is in session to overthrow the largest most secure Election in History and then call them Patriots is AOK. All in the eyes of the Beholder IMO.
it is about time= riots are riots- damaging property, burn cars and building, throwing rocks bottles …. etc.
So Senator Jones is “mourning the death of our First Amendment rights”. Hey Shevrin – destroying and burning businesses while running out through the flames with your new flat-screen on your shoulder is not a First Amendment right. Nor is hurling bricks and frozen water bottles at law enforcement officers. Nor is outfitting your friends and family with new Nikes from a destroyed, burnt-out mall. So if you are in a “mourning” mood, mourn for the hard-working business owners who have had their life-long work and livelihood ripped from them by miscreant thugs.
Michael Cocchiola says
It’s getting easier and easier for right-wing militias to shoot and kill “lefties”. And makes it easier to justify police killings of unarmed men and women of color.
Florida moves further away from equal justice. We are becoming a rogue state, disassociated from the majority of Americans.
Yeah, that explains why so many from other states are moving here. It couldn’t be that they want their rights, property and families protected from violent hoodlums bent on destroying what others have worked for. No, they’re all just racists. Give it a rest as it’s getting old.
Pierre Tristam says
The “look at all those people moving to Florida” argument is as bogus as saying people have noses so they can wear glasses. More people are moving to California than to Florida. Ideology has nothing to do with why for upwards of 90 percent of those who move here. I moved here, and I sure as hell didn’t do it because of its legislature’s fascism back when it was in its larval but still stage.
Try using some current information. California’s “growth” is primarily attributed to immigration, much of it illegal. Florida has legal Americans coming from other Democratic states such as New York. Also, the political landscape has changed since you came to Florida; taxes and immigration have increased in the states people are fleeing from, which are major reasons for the increases.
Reds, Whites, & Blues says
You RIOT……. You go to JAIL….You cause VIOLENCE…..You go to JAIL…..You burn down BUSINESSES…..You go to JAIL……You throw projectiles at POLICE……You go to JAIL…..You use a weapon against Police or Civilians…..You get SHOT !!!!!!
Thank God We the People still have a State that follows the Rules and the Constitution .
Wow, sure wish that logic worked on anyone who didn’t have light skin! How’d the capitol riot go again? How’d Kyle Rittenhouse go again? How’d every shooting with a white perpetrator in recent memory go again? Because I distinctly remember Dylann Roof getting taken to McDonald’s while police just very recently shot a 13-year-old boy for complying. Sit down.
The kid had a gun in his right hand behind his back which was visible to the officer. In one fell swoop he tossed the gun and quickly raised his hands. The officer didn’t even have time to comprehend what had just happened in a moment’s time and had to make a split second decision. Sure, you can argue with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight and slow motion frame by frame video it was the wrong decision, but he didn’t have those tools. What he saw in that fraction of a second was an armed perpetrator who was 50 seconds earlier involved in a shooting at a vehicle make a sudden move towards him. He decided he wanted to go home that night. What you should be wondering is why a 13 year old is outside at 2 AM shooting at cars when he should be home sleeping. As Candace Owens recently said, you play stupid games you win stupid prizes.
The majority ? I say it is more 50/50. People can protest all they want.
Racist! What a sick state. While others are doing what they can to protect black lives. Floriduh does all it can to make it more dangerous to be black.
Sad Times says
Well, well Republicans. It is OK for the right wing extremists to kill at the US. Capitol ….its OK for Trump’s insurrectionists to desecrate, destroy, and invade the US Capitol. Are these folks included in the Bill?
Republicans….is that Ok?
If the Bill passes….these right wing extremists will get a huge bill from we tax payers! They owe us a lot of money!
The only intentional killing was by a Capitol police officer, (and I will play your game,) shooting an unarmed woman. One person was accidentally trampled, two had heart attacks, and one police officer died of a stroke a day later for unknown reasons. I don’t think you can claim all of those fires in Portland, Seattle and Minnesota were set accidentally. And to your point, no it is not okay. Hundreds of identified rioters are being prosecuted as we speak.
Just the other day none other than JOE BIDEN himself said and j quote, “Constitutional rights are not absolute”, if that apply to the second amendment, well I guess it applies to ALL amendments and rights. You get what you get, when you give what you gave. And tearing stuff up, burning, looting, etc is NOT protesting so this violates no one’s rights. Of course if you think that is acceptable form of protest, let me and some of my buddies come protest at your house, see how you like it. I assure you, you will not.
About time!! Thanks governor!