Tallahassee, FL – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday backed up his September pledge to crack down on rioters with “anti-mob” legislation that would allow armed citizens to shoot suspected looters and make participating in a riot a felony.
The governor’s proposed legislation would expand the state’s Stand Your Ground law and grant immunity to drivers who accidentally kill or injure protesters blocking a roadway, FOX News reported.
“It allows for vigilantes to justify their actions,” Denise Georges, a former Miami-Dade County prosecutor, said. “It also allows for death to be the punishment for a property crime — and that is cruel and unusual punishment. We cannot live in a lawless society where taking a life is done so casually and recklessly.”
The proposed legislation expanded the list of “forcible felonies” under Florida’s self-defense law, the Miami Herald reported.
It would also justify a use of force against people who loot or engage in criminal mischief causing the “interruption or impairment” of a business.
“It dangerously gives armed private citizens power to kill as they subjectively determine what constitutes ‘criminal mischief’ that interferes with a business,” former Miami-Dade prosecutor Aubrey Webb told the Miami Herald. “Someone graffiti-ing ‘Black Lives Matter’ on a wall? Urinating behind a dumpster? Blocking an entrance?”
“The Boston Tea Party members would have been lawfully shot under Florida’s law by the British East India Tea Company,” Webb claimed.
The draft bill defines “looting” as committing a burglary within 500 feet of a “violent or disorderly assembly,” according to the Miami Herald.
It defines a violent or disorderly assembly as a gathering of seven or more people who “substantially obstruct” government functions or services, create “immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons,” or deprive any person of a “legal right or disturbs any person in the enjoyment of a legal right.”
The proposed “anti-mob” legislation would also enhance penalties for those involved in “violent or disorderly assemblies” and make blocking traffic during a protest a felony, the Miami Herald reported.
Further, under the proposed bill, those arrested for rioting could no longer be released on bail or bond ahead of their first court hearing “in order to ensure the full participation of the prosecutors and the protection of the public,” the Miami Herald reported.
Any government employee convicted of rioting would be fired, and non-government employees would be ineligible for reemployment assistance benefits, according to the draft.
The governor’s administration attorney circulated a version of the proposed measure entitled “anti-mob legislation draft” to members of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and the House Judiciary Committee, the Miami Herald reported.
Critics have said DeSantis’ crackdown mirrored President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric that won him the Sunshine State.
“It’s clear that the Trump beauty pageant is still going on with governors and senators, who all want to be the next Trump. And the governor is clearly a very good contestant,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber complained to the Miami Herald.
Gelber, a former federal prosecutor and Democratic state legislator, has been a vocal critic of the Stand Your Ground law since it was passed 15 years ago.
He said the governor’s “anti-mob” bill “sounds like an invitation to incite violence,” according to the Miami Herald.
Some critics have called the legislation redundant and said the important issues included in it are already addressed by existing Florida laws.
Phil Reizenstein, a Miami defense attorney, said the proposal was “clearly written with a political bent” in response to the violent riots that raged across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police, the Miami Herald reported.
“The laws existing in Florida have been able to address social situations in the past. These laws address no gaps in the current laws,” Reizenstein said. “It’s bad policy to enact criminal statutes for transient political issues. Time and money are better spent addressing the underlying causes of the unrest.”
But despite criticism from the left, the measure has a high likelihood of success with Republican lawmakers, the Miami Herald reported.
Florida State Senate President-Elect Wilton Simpson was “interested in taking a look at the issue” but hasn’t made any plans for it yet, according to Senate Spokeswoman Katie Betta.
Sarasota Republican State Senator Joe Gruters, who is also chair of the Florida GOP, said DeSantis “has the right idea” with the proposed measure, the Miami Herald reported.
Gruters said he “will definitely be supporting it however I can.”
DeSantis’ legislation also calls for the state to withhold funding from local governments that have defunded their police departments, according to the Miami Herald.
It would punish counties and municipalities that have made “disproportionate funding reductions” to law enforcement agency budgets and require municipalities to certify they haven’t done so.
“The certification must include a statement that any reduction in funding or proposed funding is a result of reduced revenue collection and is proportionate to that reduction in revenue,” the proposed legislation read.
It explained that budget cuts had to “remain within three percentage points of the percentage decrease in total revenue from the previous fiscal year to the current fiscal year” to be considered proportionate, the Miami Herald reported.