Lawsuit claims Florida’s new anti-riot law violates free speech

Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A social justice group has filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis two days after he signed a bill to create tougher penalties for people who participate in violent protests.

Court records show that the nonprofit group Legacy Entertainment & Arts Foundation filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Orlando federal court. It argues the new law violates free speech and due process rights.

The so-called anti-riot bill that DeSantis signed on Monday was a response to nationwide demonstrations that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

The bill, which covers 61 pages, makes several changes to Florida criminal and administrative law, and will:

  • Make it more difficult for cities and counties to reduce funding for law enforcement, allowing local elected officials to challenge those budget decisions, and giving the state power to approve or amend the local budget
  • Allow those local governments to be sued if they fail to stop a riot
  • Define “riot” as a violent public disturbance involving 3 or more people acting with common intent resulting in injury to others, damage to property, or the imminent danger of injury or damage
  • Enhance penalties for people who commit crimes during a riot
  • Create a new second-degree felony called an “aggravated riot,” which occurs when the riot has more than 25 participants, causes great bodily harm or more than $5,000 in property damage, uses or threatens to use a deadly weapon, or blocks roadways by force or threat of force

DeSantis spokesman Cody McCloud said the governor’s office will firmly defend the legal merits of the new law.

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