TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida legislative session ends on April 30 and Gov. Ron DeSantis has his pen ready. On April 19, the governor signed five bills into law, including the controversial anti-riot bill, HB 1, Combating Public Disorder.

DeSantis signed HB 1 into law at a 10 a.m. April 19 press conference hosted at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven. The law, which has gathered controversy for its provisions, defines a riot, changes law enforcement budgeting policies and adds penalties for crimes committed during riots.

So, what does the law do now that it is in effect?

Allows citizens to challenge proposed reductions of police department budgets

HB 1 makes it harder for local governments to reduce their law enforcement budgets and lets the state amend it if elected officials challenge the budget change.

By law, should a citizen or official choose to challenge the reduction of a police budget, they will have to file a petition to the Administration Commission within 30 days of the budget plan being publicly posted.

The filed petition has to name the proposed budget, the budget of the previous year, and explain why they’re appealing the budget reduction. Once the appeal is filed with the Executive Office of the Governor (EOG), a copy will be served to the local governing body or the clerk of the county circuit court. Then the government in question has five business days after receiving a copy of the petition to file with the EOG and deliver a copy to the petitioner.

When the EOG gets the petition, they’ll provide for a budget hearing where the issues presented by the petitioner will be considered. A report on the findings will be given to the Administration Commission, and they’ll have 30 days to approve the action of the governing body to reduce the police budget or to amend or modify the budget they proposed.

According to the law, once the budget is approved, amended, or modified by the Commission, it is final. If the local government amends the budget, they’ll have five days after adoption to post it to their public website, where it must remain for two years.

They’ll also have to send the adopted changes to the manager or administrator of the county or counties who will post the adopted amendment on the county’s site.

Allows local governments to be sued for civil liability damages if a riot is not stopped

The new law also allows local governments to be sued if a riot happens and they fail to stop it, and creating the potential for a civil liability for damages leveled at the governing body. Specifically, the law states that:

“A municipality has a duty to allow the municipal law enforcement agency to respond appropriately to protect persons and property during a riot or an unlawful assembly based on the availability of adequate equipment to its municipal law enforcement officers and relevant state and federal laws.”

Section 3. Subsection (5)(b) of section 768.28.

The law says that should a local government “breach” that duty, the municipality is civilly liable for damages, including those arising from personal injury, wrongful death, or property damages proximately caused by the breach of duty.

HB 1 also says that sovereign immunity is waived in tort actions and recovery limits do not apply to actions defined in the bill as a criminal act or violation during a riot.

Defines a riot, adds a new felony

The law now defines what a riot is as what occurs when someone “willfully participates in a violent public disturbance involving an assembly of three or more persons, acting with a common intent to assist each other in violent and disorderly conduct, resulting in Injury to another person; Damage to property; or Imminent danger of injury to another person or damage to property.”

Additionally, HB 1 created a new second degree felony called an “aggravated riot” where there are more than 25 participants.

A riot is also called an “aggravated riot” when participants cause great bodily harm or more than $5,000 in damage or involves a deadly weapon, or blocks a roadway by force or threat of force.

Comprehensively lists crimes that may occur during a riot, with increased penalties

In addition to the new type of felony for larger-scale groups, HB 1 adds additional penalties for crimes that occur during a riot, and provides a comprehensive list of what those crimes are.

Some of the crimes that may occur during a riot and are explicitly listed in the new legislation are:

  • Willfully obstructing the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway, or road by impeding, hindering, stifling, retarding, or restraining traffic or passage by standing on or remaining in the street, highway, or road, endangering the safe movement of vehicles or pedestrians.
  • Assaulting another person during a riot is a second-degree misdemeanor
  • Assaulting another person in furtherance of a riot or an aggravated riot commits a first-degree misdemeanor
  • Aggravated assault during a riot is a third-degree felony
  • Battery or felony battery are first-degree misdemeanors
    • Someone who has a prior conviction for battery, aggravated battery, or felony batter and commits a second battery is now committing a third-degree felony
  • Battery committed in furtherance of a riot or aggravated riot is a third-degree felony
  • Aggravated battery or battery with a deadly weapon is a second-degree felony
  • Mob intimidation, where a person or persons use force or threaten to use force to compel, induce, or attempt to compel or induce someone into refraining from action, assuming, abandoning, or maintaining a viewpoint against their will is a first-degree misdemeanor
  • Knowingly assaulting law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical care providers, railroad special officers, traffic accident investigation officers, nonsworn law enforcement employees certified as agency inspectors, blood alcohol analysts, or breath test operators while they are working and in uniform is now;
    • In cases of assault, a first-degree misdemeanor
    • In cases of battery, a third-degree felony
  • Aggravated assault is a second-degree felony
  • Aggravated battery is a first-degree felony
  • Criminal mischief, such as willfully and maliciously defacing, injuring, or otherwise damaging memorial or historic properties with damage greater than $200 is a third-degree felony. Those convicted will have to pay restitution, including the full cost of repair or replacement
  • Destroying or demolishing historic property, including buildings, structures, sites, or objects designated historic is a second-degree felony. Those convicted will have to pay restitution, including full cost of repair or replacement
  • Inciting a riot

The subsection on blocking roads does not stop a local government from issuing a special event permit as authorized by law. It also notes that commercial vehicles used for work such as collecting waste or recycling may stop or stand on any public street, highway, or road but must display hazard lights at all times while stopped.

A more complete list of the crimes that may be committed during a riot or aggravated riot, and their increased penalties, can be read in the published copy of HB 1 online. The potential crimes list can be found on pages seven through 35.

Following the list of potential crimes, an amended version of the Criminal Punishment Code’s offense severity ranking chart is provided within the legislation, from pages 36 through 61.