TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren is asking Florida legislators to reject a contentious anti-rioting bill supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis, calling it an attack on First Amendment Rights.
“This bill doesn’t give police or prosecutors any important new tools to handle unrest. It tears a couple corners off the Constitution,” Warren said in a press release. “It’s misguided. The public needs to understand this is a waste of valuable time and taxpayer money to keep pushing this bad bill forward.”
The legislation would increase penalties for crimes committed during a riot. Its supporters say this will protect law enforcement and prevent public disorder seen at the US Capitol and amid unrest last summer following the death of George Floyd. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to debate the bill at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. If it passes, it will be sent to the House floor.
“The bill was initially proposed last fall in the wake of unlawful riots that splintered off from peaceful protests across the country following George Floyd’s murder,” Warren said. “This misguided bill, while providing no solution to the challenges faced by prosecutors and law enforcement, directly undermines First Amendment freedoms by criminalizing peaceful protests by the many based on unlawful conduct by the few.”
According to Warren, the bill does nothing to help police identify bad actors within larger law-abiding groups and determine who did what, which is the biggest challenge they’ve faced.
Warren also argues the bill does nothing to improve public safety, and says existing laws are powerful enough to limit any unrest. He noted that his office is currently prosecuting dozens of people in connection to last May’s unrest following the death of George Floyd.
Prosecutors had filed hundreds of charges, including looting and attacking police, after a night of civil unrest in Tampa. Warren’s office declined to press charges against 67 people who were arrested during protests on allegations of unlawful assembly.
“In each of those 67 arrests, the evidence shows the person arrested was peacefully protesting,” Warren said at the time. “There was no violence. There was no vandalism. There was no attack on a law enforcement officer.”
Warren said the GOP-backed proposal “retreats to the outdated ‘throw-everyone-in-jail’ philosophy that has been revealed as a giant failure—having caused mass incarceration and systemic injustice while perpetuating a revolving door system that undermines the long-term safety of our neighborhoods.”
Warren has also criticized legislators for prioritizing a “solution in search of a problem” rather than addressing more pressing issues like the health care or the economy.
“These are difficult times with difficult problems facing hard-working, patriotic Floridians,” Warren wrote in an op-ed for the South Florida Sun Sentinel last month. “They deserve real solutions to actual issues, not political theater. If our elected leaders focused on what Floridians really need—steps to create jobs, fix the unemployment system, and effectively roll out vaccines—they would do far more to strengthen our communities than this bad bill ever will.”