Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., saying his state would not "let the mob win the day," on Monday signed into law a bill aimed at cracking down on violent protests.
DeSantis, who has emerged as a strong early contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, announced the signing of HB 1 during a morning press conference at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven, Fla.
"It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country. There’s just nothing even close," DeSantis said while surrounded by lawmakers and law enforcement officials.
Among the items included in the law, the governor said, was dealing with the "insane theory" of defunding law enforcement, WFLA reported.
"Obviously, the state of Florida, we're not going to do that under my leadership," DeSantis said. "But if a local government were to do that, it would be catastrophic, and have terrible consequences for their citizens. And so, this bill actually prevents against local governments defunding law enforcement. We'll be able to stop it at the state level."
The new law, which went into effect immediately, also allows local governments to be sued if they fail to stop a riot.
"As we saw last summer, some of the local governments are actually telling, not necessarily in Florida but throughout the country, basically telling these folks to stand down, telling police to stand down while cities burnt, while businesses were burnt, while people were being harmed," DeSantis said. "That’s a dereliction of duty.
"What our bill says, and what I’ll sign into law today, is that if you're derelict in your duty as a local government, if you tell law enforcement to stand down, then you're responsible for the damage that ensues. And if someone's been harmed, or their property has been destroyed, then they can sue you for compensation."
The law defines a "riot" as a violent public disturbance involving 3 or more people acting with common intent resulting in injury to others, damage to property, or the imminent danger of injury or damage.
The law also created a new second-degree felony called an "aggravated riot," when the riot has more than 25 participants, causes great bodily harm or more than $5,000 in property damage, uses or threatens to use a deadly weapon, or blocks roadways by force or threat of force.
There are penalties for people who "commandeer highways" and topple monuments.
"Think about it, you’re driving home from work and all of a sudden you have people out there shutting down a highway," DeSantis said, "and we worked hard to make sure that didn't happen in Florida. [If] they start to do that, there needs to be swift penalties and that’s something that can just not happen.
"We also saw around the country people toppling monuments, people like George Washington. This bill protects all monuments in Florida. You have no right to go in take down monuments. We’re not going to let the mob win the day with that."
The "Anti-Riot Bill," first filed in the Florida House of Representatives in early January, passed the Senate on Thursday evening.
Florida Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, who sponsored the bill, said he felt the framework was needed to draw a distinction between peaceful and violent behavior.
"Not only did we do that to put the public on notice as to what constitutes a riot," Burgess said, "but also to make it clear to both protester and law enforcement where that line in the law is drawn."
Opponents of the new law say it violates First Amendment Rights.
"This isn’t a game. This Governor and his Republican allies love to talk about the Constitution, while shredding it with extreme legislation like HB 1. Silencing the speech of those seeking equality is straight from the Communist regime playbook," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement Monday.
"The criminal aspects of this bill are already illegal. HB 1 protects no one, makes no one safer, and does nothing to make people’s lives better. It’s simply to appease the Governor's delusion of widespread lawlessness, and it's frightening to imagine the lengths to which he’ll go to strip away rights and freedoms for political gain."
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