Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday he will sign a bill intended to stiffen penalties for rioting.
The legislation, which cleared the Florida House last month, passed the Republican-controlled Senate 23-17 on Thursday, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“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,” DeSantis said in a statement, according to NBC News.
“Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police,” the Republican governor said.
The 61-page House Bill 1 codifies new crimes, including “mob intimidation,” thus making it “unlawful for a person, assembled with two or more other persons and acting with a common intent, to use force or threaten to use imminent force, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will.”
The law also pushes back at the riot tactic of blocking streets by grating civil legal immunity to anyone who drives through a protest that is trying to stop traffic on a road.
The bill will keep those arrested for rioting in jail until their first court appearance and require a mandatory six-month sentence for battery on a police officer while a riot is in progress, according to the Sentinel.
Further, the legislation requires that any community that moves to defund its police department have that plan approved by the state.
And among other measures, the legislation stiffens penalties for crimes like theft, burglary, batter and assault when they occur during a riot.
Democrats and their allies opposed the bill.
“This won’t stop anything, except those who are afraid. I’m not afraid,” Democratic state Sen. Daryl Rouson said, according to Fox News. “I just want to say to people, keep on knocking, keep on protesting, keep on rising in spite of an attempt to stifle voices.”
Black Voters Matter co-founder and executive director Cliff Albright called the bill an attempt to limit the type of protests that followed last year’s death of George Floyd.
“And in response to that, for the state to say, we’re going to criminalize your activity. We’re going to criminalize your passion. We’re going to criminalize your protest. That’s not what democracy looks like,” he told reporters.
Others said the bill was necessary.
“Unfortunately, what we didn’t hear a lot about today is the victims of the violence, the businesses, the jobs and the livelihoods that were lost because of the riots,” Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, who sponsored the bill, said Thursday. “That’s what the bill is about. It’s not about peaceful protest. It’s about law and order.”
“This bill is about preventing violence,” he also said.
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