Florida’s ‘Anti-Rioting’ Bill Gives the Government New Powers That Have Nothing to Do With Riots
Florida lawmakers passed a new anti-rioting bill Thursday supported by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis despite the objections of civil rights groups, which argue the legislation can and will be abused to target and punish peaceful protesters.
A read through H.B. 1 shows that it’s been designed so that supporters of the bill can insist that it’s only about fighting criminal and violent riot tactics. But its critics are correct: It contains vague enough wording to allow police to abuse it to shut down protests.
Here’s what’s in H.B. 1:
- H.B. 1 fleshes out existing laws against blocking streets as part of protests and increases penalties for anybody who commits battery or similar violent crimes as part of a riot.
- It establishes a minimum six-month jail sentence for anybody convicted of battery against a police officer as part of a riot.
- It creates a new crime—mob intimidation—which is defined as two or more people attempting to use or threatening 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,” punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor (which entails up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine).
- It establishes that anybody convicted of vandalizing or destroying historic property or a memorial is committing a felony, with a possible prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000, as well as restitution orders.
- H.B. 1 further establishes a mandate that municipalities must respond to protect people and their property during a riot or any unlawful assembly. Failure to do so strips the municipality itself of civil immunity and opens it up to lawsuits for damages.
- It gives a commission in the governor’s office veto power over municipalities within the state if they attempt to reduce the budget of their own police departments.
- It prohibits releasing anybody arrested for certain crimes like theft or assault during a riot until the arrested person has appeared before a magistrate.
- It separately and specifically prohibits anybody who is arrested for “unlawful assembly,” which is defined as any gathering of people to “commit a breach of the peace” or any other unlawful act (not necessarily rioting), from being released until they’re brought before the court.
- It creates a new crime of “cyberintimidation by publication,” making it unlawful to electronically publish somebody’s pe
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