Q&A – What’s In Florida’s “Anti-Riot” Legislation?

Today’s entry: Brian, What’s in the anti-riot bill? I’ve heard the typical left-right good-bad stuff but not a thorough analysis of what’s in the proposed legislation. Also, do you think it’s a good idea? Thanks for your consideration.

Bottom Line: Last Thursday, state Senator Shevrin Jones offered a prediction. HB 1, AKA the “anti-riot” bill would die in its final Senate committee. That didn’t happen. After about eight hours of debate the bill passed its final committee on a 11-9 vote. The legislation now stands before the full state senate for a final vote. The proposed legislation, which is backed by Governor DeSantis, has arguably been the most controversial proposal in this year’s state session. To your point, details often aren’t discussed when it’s reported on.

Let’s start with the summary of the bill: 

CS/HB 1: Combating Public Disorder

Combating Public Disorder; Authorizing specified elected officials to file an appeal to the Administration Commission if the governing body of a municipality makes a specified reduction to the operating budget of the municipal law enforcement agency; providing that a municipality has a duty to allow the municipal law enforcement agency to respond to a riot or unlawful assembly in a specified manner based on specified circumstances; reclassifying the penalty for an assault committed in furtherance of a riot or an aggravated riot; prohibiting cyberintimidation by publication; prohibiting a person from willfully participating in a specified violent public disturbance resulting in specified damage or injury; creating an affirmative defense to a civil action where the plaintiff participated in a riot, etc.

Ok, so that’s a lot of moving parts. Let's break it down a bit further. This discourages local governments from intentionally “defunding police” and it defines a riot as an act of violence committed by a gathering of three or more people assembled for a common cause. Also, violence is defined as property destruction, threats of harm to others, or the physical harm of others. Lastly, a more serious charge of an “aggravated riot” would occur if more than nine people are involved in the riot with damage exceeding $5,000.

If we’re looking analytically at the proposal, one might take exception to a riot being as few as three people causing or threatening harm, and that threats themselves could be considered riotous. During different times, I could see strong arguments being made against those thresholds representing criminal rioting. But these aren’t innocent times and we need to have our eyes wide open on this one. The riot in Brooklyn, Minnesota Sunday night showed just how quickly riots can occur these days. In a matter of a few hours after an officer involved shooting, the rioters assembled in mass and began carrying out widespread destruction. This included looting stores, destroying police property and threatening violence against law enforcement. The Minnesota National Guard had to be called in to put an end to it. 

What happened in Brooklyn wouldn’t be possible in Florida should HB 1 become law. That’s because law enforcement would be able to break up the would-be rioters before numbers reached levels that allowed for mob rule. It’s also a reminder regarding what’s different now compared to even just a year ago, before George Floyd’s death.

There’s nothing about a riot, or the threat of one, that’s freedom of expression and these aren’t innocent times. I believe Florida’s law should reflect that unfortunate reality. If the detractors of this proposal had done more to attempt to prevent riots, rather than attempting to call them peaceful protests in the first place, this might not be happening or necessary. 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods. 


Parler & Twitter:@brianmuddradio 

Photo by: Getty Images

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