Photo by Kayla Smith
A peaceful protest in downtown Orlando, June 2020
A controversial anti-rioting bill championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis is moving quickly toward passage in the House, but is likely to stall in the Senate. Triggered by the mostly peaceful protests after the police killing of George Floyd, sponsor Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, said House Bill 1 would protect against agitators who destroy properties during public disorder.
Opponents say it's intended to silence and criminalize Black protesters and allies. Speaking at a Criminal Justice Reform panel by the League of Women Voters of Tallahassee, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said lawmakers can file any bill they want, which doesn't mean it will become law.
"Ninety percent of the bills in the Senate never see the light of day and will not become law," said Brandes. "And so, you know, if you want to talk about a bill that's before a committee, and an amendment that's before a committee that I'm going to have to vote on, I'm going to tell you what I think, in general. But I don't talk about bills that aren't going to make a committee agenda."
The bill's Senate companion has yet to be heard, and its chances are slim, since Brandes chairs two and sits on the other of its three committee stops.
Florida is among 11 states attempting to pass similar legislation. Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida — a group that opposes the bill — said no one should sit back and assume that cooler heads will prevail on this issue.
"One of the things the bill does is make it such that you can hurt protesters and then, sort of claim self-defense," said Kubic. "I think folks across the state, from all sorts of backgrounds, are saying, 'That's not who we are.' And I think that is having an impact; I think legislators across the political divide are hearing that message."
Under the bill, anyone charged with a rioting-related offense might be left in jail until their first court appearance or a court determines bail. It also would penalize local governments that "defund" police agencies. The bill has a final stop in the House Judiciary Committee before it can be heard on the floor — but again, no traction in the Senate.
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