TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA/Cap News Services) – The Florida House of Representatives approved HB 1, the controversial legislation seeking to increase penalties for crimes committed during a riot, on Friday.

State lawmakers debated for five hours, bringing up cries for law and order and racial justice.

Republicans say HB 1 is about public safety and cracking down on protests that escalate to violent riots. Some protests in Tampa turned violent during this summer following the death of George Floyd. Meanwhile, Democrats opened their remarks with a symbolic gesture, speaking for the same length of time as George Floyd laid with a knee on his neck last summer in Minnesota.

The bill lays out the definition of a riot, raises penalties for crimes committed during a riot and creates a process for state attorneys to challenge budget reductions to law enforcement.

Democrats say the bill will be applied unequally and used to crack down on peaceful protests for racial justice. Republicans say the bill doesn’t discriminate.

The final vote in the House was 76-39 in favor of HB 1, straight down party lines. Three Democrats and two Republicans didn’t vote. 

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat elected to statewide office, released a statement condemning the passing of a “bill for which no Floridian asked.”

“We’re told this is a bill that we should unite behind – which makes me wonder if we’re all reading the same bill,” she wrote. “We can unite behind protecting the rights of free speech – that’s not what this bill does. We can unite behind reforming the criminal justice system that rehabilitates instead of exploits – that’s not what this bill does. We can unite behind our local governments in protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of their communities – that’s not what this bill does. We can unite behind valuing human life over property – again, that’s not what this bill does, but rather the opposite.”

Fried went on and said, “Floridians have asked for the bare minimum from their government: to help the unemployed, the sick, the hungry, and the disenfranchised. But as one lawmaker stated, this legislature is hard of hearing. There are numerous bills that meet the people’s needs, but they languish without a hearing. The majority doesn’t have the courage to face the truth of where we are and where we need to be, with Floridians’ lives and livelihoods left to suffer the consequences.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been pushing hard for the passing of the bill, has yet to release a statement but had said last week that he believed lawmakers would reach a deal on the legislation by the end of the session.