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DeSantis introduces bill to crackdown on disorderly protesting

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 21, 2020

Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a bill which would create a host of new felony charges for those involved in protests which are deemed to be unruly or violent.

Responding to protests which have broke out in parts of Florida and across the nation in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota, Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled legislation today which would unleash a host of new felony charges and penalties against those participating in protests that turn violent or are deemed to be disorderly.

The legislation, titled “Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” includes a long list of new felony counts to everything from obstructing a roadway, to being part of an assembly with seven or more people where there is damage to property or a person is injured.

The bill calls for the use of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against anybody who organizes or funds an assembly deemed to be disorderly or violent. That law has largely been used in the past to go after organized crime.

Speaking at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, DeSantis unveiled the legislation which calls for the denial of bond or bail until the first appearance in court if charged with a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly; rebuttable presumption against bond or bail after first appearance. “You are not getting bail before your first appearance and then there is a rebuttable presumption against bail after that,” DeSantis said.

The bill would establish a mandatory minimum of six months in jail for anybody convicted of striking a law enforcement officer during an assembly. There would also be “extra penalties” on those who travel from another state and involve themselves in an assembly that turns violent or is deemed disorderly, DeSantis said.

In explaining the new third-degree felony for obstructing a roadway, DeSantis said “that’s absolutely hazardous. It’s not fair to motorists who get caught up in that.”

Somebody convicted of participating in a violent or disorderly assembly will be ineligible for state benefits or unemployment under the proposed legislation.

“I look at what goes on in Portland and they will have people, they will arrest them, these are all scraggly-looking antifa-types, they get their mugshot taken and then they get released,” DeSantis said. “It’s like a carousel, on and on it goes. That’s not going to happen here in Florida.”

Decreasing funding for police departments would result in retaliatory action by the state, based on the bill. “We are not going to permit localities to defund the police. If you defund the police, the state is going to defund any grant or aid coming to you,” DeSantis said.

The ACLU issued a statement on its website saying it opposed the measures laid out by DeSantis on constitutional grounds including the provisions that would “automatically detain people pretrial without bond and change the presumption from pretrial release on non monetary conditions to a presumption of no bond. His proposal would also prohibit local municipalities from reallocating law enforcement service budgets and threaten to withdraw state funding from those who seek such reforms.”

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, called the bill “undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values. This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement. 

“The Constitution firmly protects protests even when – and especially when – they challenge government policy, and express dissatisfaction with the status quo. Instead of acknowledging and addressing police brutality and violence in our state, Gov. DeSantis wants to use his power to throw more people into the criminal legal system by enacting overly harsh criminal penalties for protesters who are exercising their constitutional right to take to the streets and demand justice. Under the guise of protecting public safety and residents, this proposal would deny fundamental due process to protesters by eliminating their right to bail. Instead of addressing the violence protesters in cities across the state have been subjected to at the hands of law enforcement, Gov. DeSantis is doubling down on his disdain for dissent. This is not what democracy looks like.”

“DeSantis has chosen to respond to this moment by proposing an undemocratic and unconstitutional bill that would chill free speech and instill fear into people who have been fighting against injustice. This proposed bill is fundamentally hostile to American values. Protesting is, and always has been, an indispensable part of our democracy’s history. We will fight any bill that violates the First Amendment.”

DeSantis said “our right to peacefully assemble is one of our most cherished as Americans, but throughout the country we’ve seen that right being taken advantage of by professional agitators, bent on sowing disorder and causing mayhem in our cities.

“I will not allow this kind of violence to occur here in Florida. The legislation announced today will not only combat rioting and looting, but also protect the men and women in law enforcement that wake up every day to keep us safe.”

DeSantis said those running for office this year should let voters know where they stand on the bill. “Are you going to stand with victims, are you going to stand with law enforcement, are you going to stand with law and order and safe communities or are you going to stand with the mob?”

State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Naples), who is running for Congress to represent Collier County and Lee County, said he hadn’t yet seen the legislation when contacted on Monday afternoon.

State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) who represents part of Lee County in the Florida House and is running for a State Senate seat, did not immediately return messages left at his Fort Myers and Tallahassee offices.

The Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act has three components, outlined below:

 

I. New Criminal Offenses to Combat Rioting, Looting and Violence

Prohibition on Violent or Disorderly Assemblies: 3rd degree felony when 7 or more persons are involved in an assembly and cause damage to property or injury to other persons.

Prohibition on Obstructing Roadways: 3rd degree felony to obstruct traffic during an unpermitted protest, demonstration or violent or disorderly assembly; driver is NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.

Prohibition on Destroying or Toppling Monuments: 2nd degree felony to destroy public property during a violent or disorderly assembly.

Prohibition on Harassment in Public Accommodations: 1st degree misdemeanor for a participant in a violent or disorderly assembly to harass or intimidate a person at a public accommodation, such as a restaurant.

RICO Liability: RICO liability attaches to anyone who organizes or funds a violent or disorderly assembly.

II. Increased Penalties

Mandatory Minimum Jail Sentence: Striking a law enforcement officer (including with a projectile) during a violent or disorderly assembly = 6 months mandatory minimum jail sentence.

Offense Enhancements: Offense and/or sentence enhancements for: (1) throwing an object during a violent or disorderly assembly that strikes a civilian or law enforcement officer; (2) assault/battery of a law enforcement officer during a violent or disorderly assembly; and (3) participation in a violent or disorderly assembly by an individual from another state.

 

III.            Citizen and Taxpayer Protection Measures

No “Defund the Police” Permitted: Prohibits state grants or aid to any local government that slashes the budget for law enforcement services.

Victim Compensation: Waives sovereign immunity to allow a victim of a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly to sue local government for damages where the local government is grossly negligent in protecting persons and property.

Government Employment/Benefits: Terminates state benefits and makes anyone ineligible for employment by state/local government if convicted of participating in a violent or disorderly assembly.

Bail: No bond or bail until first appearance in court if charged with a crime related to participating in a violent or disorderly assembly; rebuttable presumption against bond or bail after first appearance.