Tallahassee, FL – The Florida Senate passed an “anti-riot” bill on Thursday despite allegations from civil rights groups and Democrats who claim the bill tramples on citizens’ right to protest under the First Amendment.
House Bill 1 passed largely along partisan lines on Thursday with a vote of 23-17, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
It has since been sent to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has championed the legislation.
The governor said on Thursday he intends to sign the bill into law.
The measure would provide civil legal immunity to motorists who drive through groups of people blocking roadways, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
It would also stablish a mandatory six-month jail sentence for anyone convicted of battering a law enforcement officer during a riot, and would deny bail for anyone charged in connection with a riot until after they have made their initial court appearance.
“This bill is about preventing violence,” the bill’s sponsor, Senator Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills), said during the debate on the Senate floor.
Burgess shot down allegations that the bill would shield drivers who might target protesters by intentionally ramming into them, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
“That is no way protected in this bill,” he said.
He said the provision would only apply to motorists who are trying to protect themselves from demonstrators.
Senator Annette Taddeo (D-Miami) said the measure was simply a “mail piece for reelection for a specific base who wants it,” the Orlando Sentinel reported. “We have to [instead] pass legislation for all Floridians.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida released a statement denouncing the passing of the bill, which it claimed was “designed to chill and criminalize Floridians for exercising their First Amendment right to protest.”
They further alleged the measure will “shield violent counter-protesters from civil liability for killing a peaceful protester or demonstrator with their vehicle.”
“By defining ‘rioting,’ the bill grants police officers broad discretion in deciding who could be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony at a protest and fails to provide protection for people who have not engaged in any disorderly and violent conduct,” the ACLU of Florida said.
The group said the measure was also a ploy by state officials to “usurp control of a city budget and amend it to their liking.”
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Micah Kubic declared the bill “is racist, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic,” and that it was “purposely designed to embolden the disparate police treatment we have seen over and over again directed towards Black and brown people who are exercising their constitutional right to protest.”
“This bill is a disgrace to our state,” Kubic said.