WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Florida's governor, surrounded by sheriffs, police chiefs and state legislative leaders, announced a new bill that will increase penalties against protesters involved in looting and violence. The proposal will also cut state funding to cities that "defund the police."
The bill will be introduced in the next legislative session and will push felony charges against violent protesters, including against those who block roadways.
"I look at what goes on in Portland. They'll have people, they'll arrest them," Governor Ron DeSantis said during Monday's press conference. "They're all scraggly-looking ANTIFA-types. They get their mugshot taken, then they get released. It's like a carousel; on and on it goes."
"That's not going to happen in here in Florida," he added.
The proposal also includes a ban on violent or disorderly assembling where property damage or injuries to other people occur. A violation can lead to a third-degree felony.
A provision in the bill would go after local governments who appear to be focusing on cuts to police departments, and in turn, will cut state funding to those municipalities. However, DeSantis said if it appears to be a normal budget cut, then the local government won't lose state funding.
Blocking streets, or obstructing traffic during an unpermitted protest would become a third-degree felony under the bill. Drivers would not be liable for injury or death if they are fleeing for safety, the governor explained.
"It's absolutely hazardous," DeSantis said. "I think this has been a really sad chapter in American history. You didn't see the type of disorder in the state of Florida that you saw in the rest of the country. But I think we have to do more."
Under the proposal, there will be a mandatory minimum jail sentence of six months for striking a law enforcement officer.
"For everyone across the U.S. this is what leadership looks like," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. "This is remarkable. This is a state that you want to come and vacation, This is a state where you want to grow your business. This is a state where you can be safe."
DeSantis said he is unsure how much the bill will cost.
If the proposal passes, those convicted of participating in a violent of disorderly assembly will be ineligible for state benefits. The individual will also not be eligible for state or local government employment.
The governor did not make any reference to the systemic racism and discriminatory use-of-force policies by police forces that have been alleged by Black Lives Matter protesters.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the bill could unfairly ensnare those not participating in violence.
They said it mostly covers things that are already against the law, and that banning bail until first appearance those arrested at a protest is unconstitutional.
"What this is doing is criminalizing and scaring protestors," said Jackie Azis, a staff attorney at the ACLU. "We value and we cherish our right to dissent and our right to protest. What Governor DeSantis is doing here is an effort to further silence Floridians."
The "Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act" is outlined below:
New Criminal Offenses to Combat Rioting, Looting and Violence
A. Prohibition on Violent or Disorderly Assemblies: 3rd degree felony when 7 or more persons are involved in an assembly and cause damage to property or injury to other persons.
B. Prohibition on Obstructing Roadways: 3rd degree felony to obstruct traffic during an unpermitted protest, demonstration or violent or disorderly assembly; driver is NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.
C. Prohibition on Destroying or Toppling Monuments: 2nd degree felony to destroy public property during a violent or disorderly assembly.
D. Prohibition on Harassment in Public Accommodations: 1st degree misdemeanor for a participant in a violent or disorderly assembly to harass or intimidate a person at a public accommodation, such as a restaurant.
E. RICO Liability: RICO liability attaches to anyone who organizes or funds a violent or disorderly assembly.
A. Mandatory Minimum Jail Sentence: Striking a law enforcement officer (including with a projectile) during a violent or disorderly assembly = 6 months mandatory minimum jail sentence.
B. Offense Enhancements: Offense and/or sentence enhancements for: (1) throwing an object during a violent or disorderly assembly that strikes a civilian or law enforcement officer; (2) assault/battery of a law enforcement officer during a violent or disorderly assembly; and (3) participation in a violent or disorderly assembly by an individual from another state.
Citizen and Taxpayer Protection Measures
A. No “Defund the Police” Permitted: Prohibits state grants or aid to any local government that slashes the budget for law enforcement services.
B. Victim Compensation: Waives sovereign immunity to allow a victim of a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly to sue local government for damages where the local government is grossly negligent in protecting persons and property.
C. Government Employment/Benefits: Terminates state benefits and makes anyone ineligible for employment by state/local government if convicted of participating in a violent or disorderly assembly.
D. Bail: No bond or bail until first appearance in court if charged with a crime related to participating in a violent or disorderly assembly; rebuttable presumption against bond or bail after first appearance.