House GOP Passes Controversial Protest Bill

House GOP Passes Controversial Protest Bill

TALLAHASSEE — With Black lawmakers condemning the proposal as a return to the Jim Crow era, the Republican-controlled Florida House on Friday approved a measure aimed at cracking down on violent protests by creating a host of new crimes, enhancing riot-related penalties and creating roadblocks for local governments to trim police spending.

The House’s party-line passage of the law-and-order bill (HB 1) was a first step in delivering one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top legislative priorities. As lawmakers approach the midway point of the 60-day legislative session, a Senate version of the measure has not been heard in committees.

Democrats, during nearly four hours of debate on Friday, scalded the proposal, with Black lawmakers especially taking umbrage at what they maintained is a “heartless” approach to civil disobedience at a time when the nation is facing a reckoning over racial biases in policing and other aspects of life.

The Republican governor rolled out a framework for legislation in late September, following protests throughout the country sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. In arguing for the bill, Republicans have repeatedly cited violence that occurred in places such as Seattle and Portland, Ore.

The sweeping bill would, among other things, create a new crime of “mob intimidation” and stiffen penalties for injuring police officers during protests that become violent. Also, it would establish an “affirmative defense” for defendants in civil lawsuits involving deaths, injuries or property damage if the injuries or damages were sustained while plaintiffs were participating “in furtherance of a riot.”

But Democrats argued the country’s foundations are rooted in protests, with Black House members emphasizing that acts of civil disobedience were responsible for many of the liberties enjoyed by citizens today.

“We must be careful that, through our zeal to make something illegal, that we chill the very thing that makes us great,” said Rep. Christopher Benjamin, a Miami Gardens Democrat who is a lawyer. “It is … through protests that we remind America of its promises. It is through protests that we activate the conscience of America.”

The proposal is contrary to American democracy, Orlando Democrat Travaris McCurdy said during the emotionally charged floor debate.

“Words did not free slaves. Words did not give women the right to vote. Words did not end Jim Crow. And in order for this country to attempt to live up to its full potential, it took protest, civil disobedience, generation after generation,” said McCurdy, who is Black. “This is un-American. It lacks compassion, and it reeks of the foul odor of a new Jim Crow. … It seems that freedom of speech was free, up until Black and brown people started talking.”

Republicans, however, defended the plan, saying that the proposed new and enhanced crimes are necessary to ensure the safety of Floridians and their property.

“We can act before it’s too late. We do not need to have Miami or Orlando or Jacksonville become Kenosha or Seattle or Portland. We have the ability under House Bill 1 to act now to say you can protest peaceably but you cannot commit acts of violence, you cannot harm other people, you cannot destroy their property, you cannot destroy their lives,” Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, said.

Republicans also argued that the proposal would ensure the safety of peaceful protesters by giving police more tools to go after violent participants.

But Black Democrats tried to persuade their white Republican counterparts to recognize that, based on history, whites and Blacks are treated in a disparate manner.

“There is a difference in this country and you may as well admit and face it. We Black people will be treated differently from you,” said Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville.

Tallahassee Democrat Ramon Alexander, who managed the Democrats’ floor debate, acknowledged that the bill is “all about law and order.”

“But the issue that we’re trying to communicate to you, what we’re trying to open your ears to see, is that there’s never been a time in history where the law has been equally applied,” Alexander said.

DeSantis, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, discussed the outline of the plan weeks before the November presidential election. The House and Senate released initial versions of the legislation on Jan. 6, the same day Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent siege intended to block Congress from certifying states’ election results. 

GOP legislative leaders pointed to the Capitol unrest as a justification for the effort, but Democrats’ rejected such arguments on Friday.

The bill “exploits tensions versus actually addressing tensions,” Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, said.

“This bill was written in response to peaceful protests this past summer that were focused on the support of those that believe Black lives matter. This is not a bill that has any other group in mind other than Black lives,” she said. “This bill is designed to keep us in check, to keep us fearful, to scare us from speaking out about the fact that Black lives matter.”

But bill sponsor Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin said lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle should be able to support the legislation’s goals.

“We can agree that violence is wrong. We can agree that riots are wrong. We can agree that the government must protect our residents and we can agree that we must protect our law enforcement,” Fernandez-Barquin, a Miami-Dade County Republican.  “And most important, I think we can all agree that violence at a protest delegitimizes the protest.”

Black lawmakers, however, called the legislation hurtful.

The bill equates to “sending a message that only certain types of protests by certain folks are accepted,” argued Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg.

“It’s a hard truth and doesn’t feel good, but the fact that this bill was conceived in response to protests in support of Black lives and is a priority sends a message,” she said. “This message is received, loud and clear.” 

4 Responses to "House GOP Passes Controversial Protest Bill"

  1. When people say they’re treated differently, what they’re really saying is they want to be treated differently. People decrying a bill that cracks down on mob violence tells you all you need to know about them.

    Florida will be a better place to be WHEN this happens again. I hope other red states follow our example.

  2. If you are Blocking Traffic, it’s NOT peaceful.
    If you are Breaking Items, it is NOT peaceful.
    If you are Setting Fires, it is NOT peaceful.
    If you are Throwing Objects, it is NOT peaceful.
    If you are getting in peoples Faces and Screaming, it is NOT peaceful.

    It only takes one Person in the Protest to do any of these and it is NO LONGER a peaceful Protest.

  3. Deflection, projection, conflation, deception, exploitation, lies, and hypocrisy are but a few descriptors that come to mind when listening to or reading the NaziCrat opposition propaganda. And for the record, I use the term “NaziCrat” when referring to the Democrat Party because there is nothing whatsoever “Democratic” about today’s so-called Democrat Party.

    Over the past 4-years or so… the NaziCrats, Media PACs, and the Big Tech CCP puppets organized, financed, and perpetrated a campaign of hatred, riots, looting, violence, arson, destruction, mayhem, and murder in an effort to steal power and bring about the end of our Constitutional Republic. They employed a Marxists organization (blm) and a malleable bevy of ill-educated anarchists (antifa) to help them achieve their goal. In order to keep it going, the Dementia Joe Sadministration is currently violating our laws and Constitution, and flooding our nation with illegal aliens, criminal gangbangers, drugs, and disease.

    By their very own definition, the NaziCrats are themselves declaring what happened in DC on January 6th was simply a “peaceful protest” and just another example of “civil disobedience”… and by comparison to what they’ve done over the past 4-plus years, the January 6th incident was just that. That they would toss out the lame and tired “race card” to oppose this common sense and rational legislation should surprise no one.

    Kudos to the Legislators for this one. Now get to work on the Election Protection Bill… and make it count (npi).

  4. Basically the “mostly peaceful” protests touted over and over again and again by the left wing media mob were not mostly peaceful.
    You all pooped in your own nest and have no right to B & moan when you are kicked out of the nest. This legislation is a common sense first step to address the wrong that has plagued Florida and our Nation. Democrats we hear you but its past time for you to sit down and shut up. The path Democrat elected nannies are on will not serve to get them reelected.

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