Story at a glance
- The Florida state legislature passed a bill enacting stricter penalties for criminal acts during protests.
- Civil rights organizations say the bill targets Black and brown protesters following the Black Lives Matter protests.
- The vote fell along partisan lines, with most Republican lawmakers voting for the bill and Democrats voting against it.
The Florida state legislature passed a new, controversial bill aimed at quelling protests and “combating public disorder.”
The bill, dubbed House Bill 1, was first filed in the Florida House of Representatives in early January, and made its way through both chambers with various amendments. The final vote was 23-17, with the bill headed to the governor’s mansion after passing the Senate.
Florida Sen. Ed Hooper, one of the GOP lawmakers backing the bill, reportedly said the bill supports “law and order” and is not meant to infringe on American civil liberties. Keeping within party lines, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has come out in support of HB 1, and is expected to sign the bill into law within the coming week.
"This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian's constitutional right to peacefully assemble, while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished," he said in a statement. "Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police."
Activist organizations, including the ACLU of Florida, have opposed HB 1, which they say “will silence and criminalize everyday Floridians who want to exercise their First Amendment right to peacefully protest.”
Some of the key provisions in the new law include increasing the severity of an offense classified as aggravated assault or battery that occurred during a riot on both civilians and law enforcement officers, with increased criminal penalties, including jail time. The bill also prohibits the destruction of a historical structure or monument.
Local jurisdictions that interfere with law enforcement efforts to contain protests or riots are also subject to new penalties. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies who undergo local funding reductions may now file an objection through several different bureaucratic channels within 30 days of the budget proposal.
This bill was passed as the country approaches one year since the widespread civil rights protests catalyzed by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two Black Americans who died during police encounters in 2020. The following cultural referendum on institutionalized racism in the U.S. prompted the removal of historic Confederate monuments — which are protected by this legislation — by protesters who forcibly removed statues associated with the U.S.’s former legalization of slavery.