TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Two Florida lawmakers have proposed a bill to prevent protests outside of homes similar to the demonstrations that raged on for months at the family home of Brian Laundrie.
The proposed law, sponsored by state Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) and Sen. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton), would make picketing outside of someone’s home a second-degree misdemeanor. The bill states it is intended to protect “the well-being, tranquility, and privacy of the home and protecting residents from the detrimental effect of targeted picketing.”
As multiple law enforcement agencies conducted a wide-ranging search for Laundrie, protesters converged on the home. Some yelled for justice, others asked if Laundrie’s parents knew where he was. After law enforcement officers arrived at the Laundrie’s North Port home on Sept. 17, 2021, dozens of members from the community converged on the house, asking for answers.
If SB 1664 passes, all of the protesters outside of the Laundrie home could have faced charges, been fined $500, spent two months in jail, or both.
A Senate analysis of the bill’s potential impact says the largest change would be how it adjusts state statutes, specifically sections related to breaching the peace and disorderly conduct. Current law prevents groups of three or more people from gathering to “breach” the peace or commit any other unlawful act.
For the purposes of the proposed bill, the breach of the peace and disorderly conduct would mostly apply to “affecting the peace and quiet of persons who may witness” the protests. Basically, disturbing the quiet at the Laundrie house would have been what broke the law during the Petito protests, if the law passes. Other disorderly conduct includes actions like “brawling or fighting, corrupting the public morals, and outraging the sense of public decency,” according to the senate analysis.
While the bill was sponsored by senators from Gainesville and Bradenton, with Bradenton just an hour from North Port, the Petito protests were not given as examples of “targeted protests at private residences” in the senate analysis.
Instead, the legislature’s analysts focused on protests outside the homes of U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, as well as protests over George Floyd in Orlando.
In the 2021 legislative session, discussion of the George Floyd protest movement was prominent during passage of the state’s new anti-riot law, HB 1, which was designed to “combat public disorder” and strengthened penalties for gatherings of more than three people that become violent and/or block traffic in Florida.
During the hearing at the end of January, bill sponsor Perry said among examples were harassing actions which targeted a Brevard County school official who faced protests due to her mask position related to COVID-19.
“During the height of COVID-19, Brevard County School board member Jennifer Jenkins had anti-mask protesters swarm her home, the protesters used foul language, argued with her neighbors, and even coughed in her face,” Sen. Perry said. He said Jenkins dealt with similar issues over other policy issues for nine months, and said her 5-year-old daughter was traumatized by those incidents. Perry also said there were numerous other examples.
Perry said there should be a difference between a dwelling, which the bill defines as a residence, and a public space.
“I think in general, social media has exasperated some of these issues,” Perry said. The senator said he wanted to be clear that someone’s home should be protected from protesters, as a different type of space to a public location. While the Petito-Laundrie story was not mentioned in analysis or bill text nor in the initial explanation of the bill by Perry, it was prominent during the committee hearing’s public comment section for the bill, during commentary by a law enforcement officer.
Lt. Mike Crabb from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said the law would be drawing a line in the sand, when it comes to protests at private residences.
“The residential home of you, the elected officials, and as several other examples, as the senator [Perry] mentioned it, you signed up for a certain amount of it. Your spouse, your children did not, and nor did your neighbors, more importantly. But it goes beyond that,” Crabb said. “So, Brian Laundrie, the murderer from Southwest Florida had days and days of protest at his house, his parents’ house. He’s not an elected official, his parents weren’t an elected official but that wasn’t right either. Whether, whatever side you’re on, it gives you protection, it’s not just for an elected official.”
Both the bill itself and the senate analysis state the bill’s effect is to “serve the states significant interest in protecting the well-being, tranquility, and privacy of the home and protecting residents from the detrimental effect of targeted picketing.” The first committee hearing passed the legislation unanimously. If passed in both chambers, it would take effect Oct. 1, should Gov. DeSantis sign it into law.