Ron DeSantis Backs Tougher Penalties on Criminals Targeting Law Enforcement, Rioters and Looters

Republicans in Tallahassee are behind a new proposal to crack down on criminals targeting law enforcement officials and “participate in violent or disorderly assemblies.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Monday his support of the “Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act.”

“Our right to peacefully assemble is one of our most cherished as Americans, but throughout the country we’ve seen that right being taken advantage of by professional agitators, bent on sowing disorder and causing mayhem in our cities,” said DeSantis. “I will not allow this kind of violence to occur here in Florida. The legislation announced today will not only combat rioting and looting, but also protect the men and women in law enforcement that wake up every day to keep us safe. I look forward to working with the Florida Legislature next session to sign this proposal into law.”

The proposal has the support of the incoming leaders of the state Legislature.

“Peaceful protesting is a constitutional right, but looting and disorderly rioting are not,” said incoming state Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill. “We will continue to stand with our brave law enforcement officers as they protect and serve. This bill is a way to ensure that all Floridians can live in a safe and secure environment. I commend Governor DeSantis for his commitment to public safety.”

“Violence and destruction are the tools of terrorists, not reformers,” said incoming state House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. “We live in a country founded on the power of words, and no group of self-appointed activists and anarchists can be allowed to deprive others of their life, liberty or property. I’m proud to stand with Governor DeSantis to say that in Florida we will respect the right of people to protest peacefully while defending the rule of law.”

The proposal has the support of some law enforcement leaders including Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz who is the president of the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

Andrea Mercado, the executive director of the New Florida Majority, came out swinging at the new proposal on Tuesday.

“Let me be clear: Gov. DeSantis is proposing legislation that would effectively legalize violence against protesters in the state of Florida. This is an unconscionable assault on the sanctity of free speech and a blatantly political tactic to sow chaos ahead of the presidential election in November,” she said. “The proposed legislation would protect from liability individuals who injure protesters with their vehicles; just three years after Heather Heyer, an anti-racism activist, was murdered when a white supremacist drove his vehicle into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“The suppression of dissent is a tactic that has been used by dictators in authoritarian regimes throughout history and around the world. One of the most sacred aspects of our American democracy is the freedom to express dissent without the fear of state-sanctioned violence. The governor’s proposed legislation is a direct threat to this freedom,” Mercado added. “This legislation cannot go forward. The governor should cease his attempts to sow chaos and discord and work to support Florida’s working families who are still struggling with his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of trying to divide our state even further, he should focus on extending the moratorium on evictions; expanding unemployment insurance; stop rushing to send our children back to school when it is unsafe to do so; and stop FPL from disconnecting utilities to households already struggling to stay afloat amid this pandemic. Instead of continuing to tear us apart, he should focus on supporting the people of Florida during one of the most difficult periods in our history.”

According to the governor’s office, the proposal would do the following:

1. New Criminal Offenses to Combat Rioting, Looting and Violence

A. Prohibition on Violent or Disorderly Assemblies: 3rd degree felony when 7 or more persons are involved in an assembly and cause damage to property or injury to other persons.

B. Prohibition on Obstructing Roadways: 3rd degree felony to obstruct traffic during an unpermitted protest, demonstration or violent or disorderly assembly; driver is NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.

C. Prohibition on Destroying or Toppling Monuments: 2nd degree felony to destroy public property during a violent or disorderly assembly.

D. Prohibition on Harassment in Public Accommodations: 1st degree misdemeanor for a participant in a violent or disorderly assembly to harass or intimidate a person at a public accommodation, such as a restaurant.

E.  RICO Liability: RICO liability attaches to anyone who organizes or funds a violent or disorderly assembly.

II. Increased Penalties

A. Mandatory Minimum Jail Sentence: Striking a law enforcement officer (including with a projectile) during a violent or disorderly assembly = 6 months mandatory minimum jail sentence.

B. Offense Enhancements: Offense and/or sentence enhancements for: (1) throwing an object during a violent or disorderly assembly that strikes a civilian or law enforcement officer; (2) assault/battery of a law enforcement officer during a violent or disorderly assembly; and (3) participation in a violent or disorderly assembly by an individual from another state.

III. Citizen and Taxpayer Protection Measures

A. No “Defund the Police” Permitted: Prohibits state grants or aid to any local government that slashes the budget for law enforcement services.

B. Victim Compensation: Waives sovereign immunity to allow a victim of a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly to sue local government for damages where the local government is grossly negligent in protecting persons and property.

C. Government Employment/Benefits: Terminates state benefits and makes anyone ineligible for employment by state/local government if convicted of participating in a violent or disorderly assembly.

D. Bail: No bond or bail until first appearance in court if charged with a crime related to participating in a violent or disorderly assembly; rebuttable presumption against bond or bail after first appearance.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

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