TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s “anti-riot” bill is headed to the governor, who has said he looks forward to signing it. Thursday night, the controversial policy cleared its final hurdle— the Senate— in a near party-line vote, 23 to 17.
HB 1 was a major agenda item this year which the GOP majority can now cross off its list. Sponsor Sen. Danny Burgess said before the bill was about preserving law and order.
“The only reference to peaceful protest in this bill… protect it," said the Zephyrhills Republican. "What this bill does not protect is violence.”
Proposed by the governor following violent Black Lives Matter protests last year, HB 1 allows local police to challenge budgets; opens communities to liability for poor riot control; and creates or strengthens penalties against those it deems rioters.
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), the only Republican opposed, called the bill a missed opportunity for criminal justice reform.
“I think this bill solves Portland's problems in Florida but doesn’t solve Florida’s problems,” Brandes said. “We had an opportunity with this bill to work together, to come up with a common solution to a problem.”
For Democrats, united in opposition, approval was a solemn moment. Several members addressed the capitol press corps dressed in black, following the floor vote.
"We’re mourning the beginning of the end, the beginning of the death of the First Amendment in the state of Florida," said Sen. Gary Farmer, the chamber's Democratic Minority Leader.
Farmer and his colleagues worried broad language would suppress nonviolent demonstrations and minority voices.
"HB 1 is racist at its core," said Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens. "DeSantis knows it. He can't put this off on the January 6th insurrection."
Opponents now turn to the courts hoping they’ll step up to strike down HB 1 as unconstitutional. That’s despite Republican leadership saying the bill is sound.
“When I read that bill, I don't see why it wouldn't hold up," said Sen. President Wilton Simpson. "There will be good lawyers to debate that here in the coming few months— but I don’t see any reason from a common-sense perspective that it wouldn’t hold up.”
DeSantis will likely waste little time signing the bill upon its arrival. HB 1 takes effect immediately with his signature.
The governor's staff said in a statement:
"With the passage of HB 1, the Florida Legislature has answered Governor DeSantis’ call to uphold the rights of our state’s residents while protecting businesses and supporting our brave men and women in law enforcement. 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. Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police. The Governor looks forward to signing HB 1 into law."