Senate votes to increase protections for first responders

by | Feb 15, 2024

The Florida Senate unanimously approved legislation to enhance protections for first responders by making it a misdemeanor to obstruct, threaten, or harass them within 14 feet during their duties.

The Florida Senate unanimously 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.

Introduced by Sens. Bryan Avila and Ed Hooper, Senate Bill 184 (SB 184) targets individuals who approach within 14 feet of a first responder after being warned to keep their distance. This 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.

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.

“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. 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.

Avila, in his closing remarks, emphasized the dual purpose of the bill: to safeguard first responders and to ensure public safety by preventing situations from becoming more chaotic or dangerous. He called on his colleagues for their favorable support, which was granted as the bill passed with a unanimous vote of 39-0.

If adopted into state statute, SB 184 will make it a first-degree misdemeanor to violate the specified distance requirement, with the intent to disrupt or interfere with the duties of first responders.


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