Today the Florida Senate passed the Combating Public Disorder or the Anti-Riot bill by a vote of 23 to 17 and it is heading to the Governor’s Office to be signed into law.
There has been hours and hours of passionate debate about fears the bill infringes on the freedom to peaceful assembly and free speech.
Senator Darryl Rousson (D-District 19) spoke of his time are a protestor and activist and told the room, he and others like him will not be stopped by the provisions in this bill. He said, “There is no chill in this bill because I’m gonna keep on fighting.”
Supporters of the bill continually tried to convince those in opposition, that none of them want the fight for racial equally or any other form of peaceful protests stifled.
Senator Ed Hooper (R-District 16) told those against the bill, “Not one word in this bill is asking you to quit or give up.”
Senator Aaron Bean (R-District 4) said, “I will stand with you to make changes. But, I draw the line at violence. We are a state of laws. Protest is good. Killing looting and burning is not.”
The bill’s sponsor Senator Danny Burgess (R-District 20) has assured his fellow senators that this bill is not an infringement on peaceful assembly, it addresses the violent acts associated with rioting. In his closing statement today, he said, “This bill is not about peaceful protests. It’s about law and order. It’s about ensuring the voices of the peaceful who are fighting against injustice the right way are never drowned out by those who seek to sow further division, who seek to further pull us apart at a time that I feel like we are further apart than we’ve ever been in my lifetime. That’s what this is about. I ask you to please look past the rhetoric. I ask you to please focus on the words on this paper” meaning the actual words of the legislation.
So, what, actually, is in this bill?
The only words that discuss peaceful protests are in Lines 801 and 802 of the bill and state, “This section does not prohibit constitutionally protected activities such as a peaceful protest.”
However, it does address violent protests and according to the Florida Supreme Court, it is not an infringement on civil rights “to make criminal the promoting, encouraging, and aiding of an assembly, the purpose of which is to wreak violence.”
The bill requires a person arrested for unlawful assembly, riot, and certain offenses committed in furtherance of a riot or aggravated riot, to be held in jail until he or she appears for a first appearance hearing and a court determines bond.
Proponents believe this provides a “cooling off time” so rioters are not just let right back out into the unrest. Critics say it puts a financial burden on the judicial system to hold these people until a hearing. It also risks snaring people who have done no wrong, with those who have.
The bill also creates an affirmative defense in a civil action for damages for personal injury, wrongful death, or property damage that arose from injury or damage sustained by a participant acting in furtherance of a riot. Critics say this would allow for the driver of a truck to drive through a peaceful protest and intentionally harm those in the way. Supporters say that it allows someone caught in their vehicle during a protest to be able to defend themselves.
Additionally the bill increases penalties for assault and battery, and increases offense severity level rankings for aggravated assault and aggravated battery, when committed during a riot or an aggravated riot.
It also gives a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for battery on a law enforcement officer if the offense was committed during a riot and increases the offense severity level rankings for assault and battery on that law enforcement officer.
It also reclassifies the degree, and increases the offense severity level ranking, of specified burglary and theft offenses committed during a riot or an aggravated riot when facilitated by conditions arising from the riot.
In attempt to prevent Florida cities from “defunding the police,” the bill creates a budget appeal process to challenge reductions in municipal law enforcement agencies’ budgets. The state’s sheriff’s have long had an appeals process for when the sheriff feels that the budget set by the county commission impedes their ability to maintain law and order. But municipal police departments have not had this appeals process. This bill provides that.
The bill provides that a municipality can be sued in civil court if the municipality doesn’t allow its law enforcement agencies to respond appropriately to protect people and property during a riot.
During the debate Senator Ray Rodrigues (R-District 27) said that this was a very important provision. He cited events in Seattle this summer in the Capitol Hill autonomous zone where residents would call 9-1-1 for help and were told the police would not be coming.
He said, “This went on for like six weeks. We need our cities in Florida to know that is not an appropriate response in this state and they need to know if they choose to go down that road, they will lose the privilege of having sovereign immunity.”
Critics argued it was dangerous and authoritarian to threaten cities with this type of consequence.
The bill also removes unconstitutional provisions of current law relating to the prohibition against obstructing a roadway. The new language states, a person may not willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway, or road by impeding, hindering, stifling, retarding, or restraining traffic or passage by standing on or remaining in the street, highway, or road; or endangering the safe movement of vehicles or pedestrians. Anyone who violates this will incur an $15 infraction. This provision does not prohibit a local government from issuing permits for blocking roadways.
The bill also creates a couple of new crimes.
The first is a new crime of mob intimidation, which prohibits a mob from using force or the threat of imminent force to compel or induce a person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against that person’s will. This bill directly arises from reports of incidences across the country in which people were told they had to repeat certain phrases or be harmed.
The second new crime the bill would create is destroying or demolishing a memorial or historic property and requires restitution of the full cost of repair or replacement of the memorial or historic property, if the damage is greater than $200. It would be a third degree felony.
The third new crime is cyberintimidation by publication, sometimes called “doxxing.” It prohibits a person from electronically publishing another person’s personal identification information with the intent to incite violence or commit a crime against the person or threaten or harass the person, placing the other person in reasonable fear of bodily harm.