DeSantis signs Florida's 'anti-riot' bill into law

Florida's Senate passed the bill last week 23-17

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed into law Florida’s "anti-riot" bill, which increases penalties for crimes committed during riots and is aimed at "combating public disorder."

"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 at a press conference. "There’s just nothing even close."

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla. (Associated Press)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla. (Associated Press)

Florida's Senate passed the bill last week 23-17. It was seen as a response to protests around the country stemming from police brutality against African Americans.

The law, which goes into effect immediately, grants civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road and allows authorities to hold arrested demonstrators from posting bail until after their first court date. The legislation increases the charge for battery on a police officer during a riot and adds language that could force local governments to justify a reduction in law enforcement budgets.

The bill allows people to sue local governments over personal or property damages if they were determined to have interfered with law enforcement response during civil unrest. It also increases penalties for protesters who block roadways or deface public monuments and creates a new crime, "mob intimidation."

Republicans say the bill would protect law enforcement officers and help prevent public disorder following recent unrest in the U.S.

Civil rights, social justice groups, and Democrats say it is an unconstitutional attack on free speech that would make it easier for law enforcement to charge those involved in a protest.

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"The problem with this bill is that the language is so overbroad and vague ... that it captures anybody who is peacefully protesting at a protest that turns violent through no fault of their own," said Kara Gross, the legislative director at ACLU Florida, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "Those individuals who do not engage in any violent conduct under this bill can be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony and face up to five years in prison and loss of voting rights. The whole point of this is to instill fear in Floridians."

On Monday, DeSantis, a Republican, also talked about the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter following the death of George Floyd last May. 

The governor hinted he could be acquitted, according to the paper

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"I don’t know what’s going to happen," DeSantis said. "But I can tell you that case was bungled by the attorney general there in Minnesota. They didn’t handle it properly. And so there may be people disappointed."