Florida Anti-Riot Bill Makes Way to Senate

By Gabriela Mendez

On Friday, March 26, the Florida House approved 76-39 Governor DeSantis anti-riot bill to move forward the Senate. Yet, many are against this bill and find it will cause a chilling effect on the people’s first amendment right. 

The legislation (HB 1),”Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” was first introduced last September after the Black Lives Matter demonstrations by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis but is now being pushed forward after the January event at the Capitol Building. 

The legislation would increase penalties for crimes committed during a violent protest, and it would create new felonies for organizing or taking part in demonstrations that turn violent. In which protestors can face up to a third-degree felony if “7 or more persons are involved in an assembly and cause damage to property or injury to other persons.” 

“Our right to peacefully assemble is one of our most cherished as Americans, but throughout the country we’ve seen that right being taken advantage of by professional agitators, bent on sowing disorder and causing mayhem in our cities,” said Governor DeSantis the day of proposing the legislation. “I will not allow this kind of violence to occur here in Florida. The legislation announced today will not only combat rioting and looting, but also protect the men and women in law enforcement that wake up every day to keep us safe.”

The bill has been met with many counter protests and has faced scritunity of being unconstitutional by some Democratic politicians as well as Americans who have written letters to representatives finding that HB1 is an impeachment on people’s right to free speech. 

“My initial reaction to the passing of HB1/the anti-riot bill was anger, but I was not surprised. My anger came from the fact that this bill can be used as a mechanism of silencing the community,” said Adachi Selas, a University of Tampa sophomore psychology major. “Although the bill does not technically prevent people from protesting, the criminalization of protesting and behaviors that surround it may very well cause many people not to protest for fear of being penalized.”

Some also worry about the effect this will have on the relationship between the police force and the community and find the bill was made more to silence them than not letting a repeat of the January event. 

“This bill does not help bring together the community and law enforcement and further drives a wedge- many law enforcement officers and leaders do not even support it. We saw the horrendous acts that occurred over the summer at the hands of law enforcement in response to peaceful protestors,” said Claire Breeden, president of UT Democrats. “This Bill is intended to be a response to January 6 should focus on dismantling white supremacy and the organizations that support it rather than silence the voices of color speaking out against injustice.”

Another reason many have opposed the bill is the way that this legislation by Gov. DeSantis will cost taxpayers and Florida’s prison system. 

Rick Harper, former director of the University of West Florida Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development, conducted a research on the legislation and concluded it will cause the need of a budget of billions.

Harper’s report found that the larger prison population from this legislation means a steeper budget for the state prison system which will cost Florida taxpayers around “$6.6 to $17.5 million per year.”

The bill also addresses defunding the police, as it states that it “prohibits state grants or aid to any local government that slashes the budget for law enforcement services.”

In terms of how this bill may impact institutions such as The University of Tampa in handling demonstrations by students, the university has stated no change to the protocol will be made but just ensure student safety. 
“Our mission does not change with any event,” said Samuel Ponce, assistant director of Campus Safety. “We are here to maintain the safety of our entire campus community.”

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