TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services) – The contentious anti-rioting legislation supported by Governor Ron DeSantis got its second of three committee hearings in the House Wednesday.
Opponents argue the bill is an attack on First Amendment rights, but supporters assert it will protect law enforcement and prevent public disorder seen at the US Capitol and across the country last year.
There are two distinct camps on the controversial “Combatting Public Disorder” legislation.
Senate sponsor Danny Burgess signed on after seeing a business in his district burned down during the unrest over the summer.
“Martin Luther King stood for peaceful protest. Plain and simple. And that’s what we’re here to protect and preserve,” said Burgess.
On the other hand, social justice groups argue the bill seeks to silence their ability to protest.
“This is an anti-Black bill. This is an anti-brown bill,” said Rep. Michele Rayner.
Protestors at the Capitol argued the bill, which increases penalties for crimes committed during a riot, will lead to the arrest of peaceful protestors.
“We’re supposed to trust the police department to discern rioting from protesting, what we’re doing, right now. Do we trust the police right now?” Said Christina Kittle with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee.
The response from the crowd was a resounding ‘no’.
But House sponsor Juan Alphonso Fernandez-Barquin argues his bill will work to the benefit of those seeking to exercise their First Amendment right.
“If these agitators show up, it is in the best interest of the peaceful protesters to point who these individuals are out to the law enforcement and that law enforcement deals with them directly,” said Fernandez-Barquin.
There are also concerns with a provision that would allow those arrested during a riot to be held without bond until first appearance.
Fernandez-Barquin said the policy is in response to what he described as ‘fringe groups’ immediately bailing people out after they were arrested in cities like Portland and Seattle during riots in the cities. He explained the intent is only to hold those arrested overnight.
“So that individual does not return back to the riot and keep participating in the riot,” said Fernandez-Barquin.
The legislation also would allow citizens to petition the Governor’s Office if their local government moves to decrease funding for law enforcement.
Opponents see the bill as a crackdown on the racial justice movement spurred by the death of George Floyd, but Gov. DeSantis standby by his claim that the legislation is not about politics.
“The minute you start to turn violent or attack law enforcement, we are absolutely going to hold you accountable,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The bill hasn’t moved in the Senate, but with the governor’s backing, it won’t be stagnant for long.