Gov. DeSantis to receive first responder protections bill

by | Mar 7, 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis is poised to receive a bill that would protect first responders by making it a misdemeanor to impede their duties by approaching closer than 25 feet after being warned.

The Florida Senate passed legislation on Thursday to bolster protections for first responders by criminalizing actions that impede, threaten, or harass them while they are performing their duties.

Sponsored by Sen. Bryan AvilaSenate Bill 184 (SB 184) targets individuals who approach within 25 feet of a first responder after being warned to keep their distance. The legislation is designed to ensure that law enforcement officers, correctional probation officers, firefighters, and emergency medical care providers can carry out their responsibilities without interference, according to the Avila.

The bill’s passage comes amid growing concerns over the safety of first responders at emergency scenes, where chaotic situations can escalate if bystanders do not maintain a safe distance. Sen. Victor Torres, a former law enforcement officer, voiced strong support for the bill during a prior committee stop.

“The bill provides that it is a first degree misdemeanor for any person, after receiving a warning not to approach from a first responder who is engaged in the lawful performance of a legal duty, to violate the warning and approach or remain within 14 feet of the first responder,” reads a House legislative analysis.

During Floor debate, Sen. Bobby Powell — the lone dissenting vote — expressed reservations that the 25 feet of space could prevent actions like accountable recording of police interactions.

In the bill’s first Senate vote before being amended to implement the approved 25 foot distance marker from the original 14, Sen. Jason Pizzo called for support of the measure, noting an importance in the preservation of crime scenes. He drew on examples, including the Surfside building collapse, to illustrate the necessity of the bill.

Pizzo argued that, just as the public is expected not to cross police lines at a crime scene, the same understanding should apply to maintaining a distance from first responders.

“I know that we may reflexively think to, or jump to, horrible situations — the murder of George Floyd and those situations — but the overwhelming majority of cases will involve situations where the preservation of evidence, the sanctity of one’s privacy, the sensitive nature and content of a situs of a crime … which is necessary,” Pizzo told lawmakers.

A pair of House lawmakers sided with Powell after the bill passed the Senate, issuing statements of opposition.

“I am deeply disappointed that this bill, which was supposed to include a cooperative effort by both Democrats and Republicans in the House to improve its language, has passed in its current form in the Senate,” said Rep Bracy Davis. ““The only reason we know what happened to George Floyd is because of a girl who was filming his murder close by, and it is apparent to me today that this body is more concerned with the comfort of the police officer than it is with justice and truth.”

Rep. Dianne Hart supplemented, alleging that the ratified legislation fails to factor for accountability measures.

“I’m disappointed that we as a legislature could not come together on an amendment to provide accountability measures to this bill,” she said. “This goes against the purpose of the legislative process and will make communities like mine less safe.”


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