POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his long-promised anti-rioting legislation into law on Monday during a news briefing in Polk County.
DeSantis first announced his plan in September alongside Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and he returned to the county for its signing.
“We put out a vision for the state to maintain being a law and order state,” DeSantis said. “We saw really unprecedented disorder and rioting throughout the summer of 2020, and we said that’s not going to happen here in the state of Florida.”
The governor touted the scope of the newly signed law.
“It is the strongest anti-rioting pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country. There’s just nothing even close.”
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The law penalizes local governments who would look to defund their police departments and makes them liable for damage if elected leaders “tell law enforcement to stand down,” according to the governor.
It also applies more penalties to people who block highways during protests or topple monuments in the state. There is also a provision for “mob intimidation.”
“We saw images of people just sitting outside eating at a restaurant, then you have this crazy mob circle around them and start screaming and really intimidating. I’m sorry that’s unacceptable. You’re going to be held accountable,” DeSantis said.
The governor also highlighted heightened penalties for any violent clashes with law enforcement during protests or demonstrations.
“If you harm others, particularly if you harm, a law enforcement officer during one of these violent assemblies, you’re going to jail,” DeSantis said.
The signing comes as lawyers are making their closing arguments in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minnesota for the death of George Floyd. Floyd’s death sparked days of, sometimes violent, protests in Minneapolis, which DeSantis has cited as part of the reason behind this new law.
The governor took a swipe at the Minnesota Attorney General for how the Chauvin case was handled.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen but I can tell you that case was bungled by the Attorney General there in Minnesota,” DeSantis said. “They didn’t handle it properly. And so there may be people disappointed, I don’t know, we’ll see.”
The governor did not elaborate further as to how he felt the case was mishandled. The governor also never mentioned the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which did not go unnoticed by critics of the bill, who see it as an attempt to squash the voices of groups like Black Lives Matter.
“Not only is this racist at its core, but it’s also a reaction to what occurred over the summer after the death of George Floyd,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones. “The governor made no mention of the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
The anti-rioting bill passed the Florida Senate last week, largely along party lines.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the new law would give police broad discretion over what constitutes a demonstration and a riot.
“The bill was purposely designed to embolden the disparate police treatment we have seen over and over again directed towards Black and brown people who are exercising their constitutional right to protest,” said Micah Kubic, the executive director of ACLU of Florida.
The governor and several other speakers at Monday’s signing addressed those criticisms, insisted that the law protects “peaceful protests.”
“You can peacefully protest every day, and should peacefully protest if you feel like that’s necessary, but if you cross the line and you start damaging property — you start threatening law enforcement — then this law is going to have the enhanced penalties,” Sen. Wilton Simpson, president of the Florida Senate, said.
The governor left the signing without taking any questions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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