What Is In Florida's 'Anti-Riot' Bill Signed by Ron DeSantis?

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a controversial "anti-riot" bill into law, which state Democrats and local activists have criticized as attempting to stifle social justice protests. Florida's Senate passed the HB 1 bill on Thursday. The legislation has been spearheaded by DeSantis since last summer's Black Lives Matter protests.

"It's really remarkable, if you look at the breadth of this particular piece of legislation, it is the strongest anti-rioting pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country," DeSantis said during a press conference for the signing in Winter Haven. "There's just nothing even close."

The bill cracks down on protesters accused of participating in riots, defacing historical monuments, as well as obstructing highways and streets. The bill also deems "mob intimidation"—defined as attempting to induce someone into doing an act or adopting a particular viewpoint—as unlawful.

The legislation additionally enhances protections for law enforcement. Assaulting police officers "in furtherance of a riot" is punishable with a six-month minimum jail sentence. Communities seeking to reduce funding for law enforcement are now required to first present their petition to a state administration commission.

"If a local government were to [defund the police], that would be catastrophic and have terrible consequences for their citizens," DeSantis said. "We'll be able to stop it at the state level."

The bill further allows people to sue local governments over personal or property damages, if they were found to have interfered with law enforcement response during civil unrest.

"We saw last summer, some of the local governments were actually telling—not necessarily in Florida, but throughout the country—basically telling police to stand down while cities burned," DeSantis said. "That's a dereliction of duty."

He continued: "What our bill says that I'll sign into law today, is that if you're derelict in your duty as a local government, if you tell law enforcement to stand down, then you're responsible for the damage that ensues."

While the bill's language says it "does not prohibit constitutionally protected activity such as a peaceful protest," the legislation drew criticism from Democratic officials and local activists, who worried it will curtail basic freedoms, silence political dissent and disproportionately target communities of color.

"The signing of #HB1 being signed today is a deliberate scare tactic, considering that closing arguments in the #DerekChauvinTrial started today," tweeted Florida State Senator Shevrin Jones. "This was never about protecting 'peaceful protesters,' it has always been about silencing a group of protesters, black & brown voices."

Ron DeSantis speaks to media
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media about the cruise industry during a press conference at PortMiami on April 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images