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Florida House ready vote on controversial 'anti-riot' bill

'We've proposed the strongest anti rioting, pro-law enforcement reforms in the nation,' said Gov. Ron DeSantis
Posted at 10:58 AM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 19:58:10-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's controversial "anti-riot" bill is ready for a vote Friday on the House floor.

HB 1 strengthens penalties against rioters, turning misdemeanors into felonies. It also better protects police from budget cuts and opens cities up to liability for poor riot control.

Democrats tried for hours Thursday afternoon to water down the proposal with several amendments. The GOP-controlled chamber adopted none of them.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami, was, however, able to add in a provision protecting historical places from rioters.

For months, opponents have railed against HB 1, fearing its language and definition of a riot is too broad. Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren warned it would have a chilling effect on the First Amendment.

"Under this definition, if you have a large group of people where only three of them do something bad, everybody else there is participating in a riot," Warren said. "This bill creates a potential for widespread abuse. We know that abuse in the criminal justice system has historically disproportionately hurt minorities."

GOP supporters have pushed back for weeks, saying the measure is a deterrent.

Fernandez-Barquin recently told colleagues in committee discussions the bill's language is no more widely tailored than current standards.

"If you behave lawfully and peacefully, you have nothing to worry about," he said.

The bill also has Gov. Ron DeSantis' approval. He spearheaded the effort following the Black Lives Matter protests last year and doubled down following the U.S. Capitol riot in January.

"We've proposed the strongest anti rioting, pro-law enforcement reforms in the nation," DeSantis said to lawmakers during his State of the State Address earlier this month. "We will not allow our cities to burn and violence to rule the streets, and we will not leave any doubt in the minds of those who wear the uniform that the state of Florida stands with you."

The Republican-controlled House will likely easily pass the measure Friday following a scheduled six-hour debate.

HB 1 then faces an uncertain future. Senators will also need to approve the bill before it can reach the governor's desk.

Lawmakers in the upper chamber have yet to schedule their version for committee discussion.