Governor wants to take away benefits for violent protesters, penalize cities that defund police

Bill could pass during next legislative session

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday introduced a bill meant to deter riots by creating mandatory minimum sentences for anyone caught participating in a protest that turns violent and taking away that person’s government benefits.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday introduced a bill meant to deter riots by creating mandatory minimum sentences for anyone caught participating in a protest that turns violent and taking away that person’s government benefits.

Speaking from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, DeSantis said the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act would also strip state funding from cities and municipalities that move to defund their police departments.

DeSantis said the bill will be a major “focal point” of the upcoming legislative session and he already believes he has the backing to get it enacted into law.

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If approved, the act would also target residents who come from other states with the sole purpose of hijacking otherwise peaceful demonstrations to use them as a cover to commit acts of violence.

“If you are involved in a violent or disorderly assembly and you harm somebody, if you throw a brick and hit a police officer, you’re going to jail and there’s going to be a mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least six months for anyone who strikes a police officer, either with a weapon or projectile, and we’re also not going to simply let people back out on the street," DeSantis said. “So if you are in custody for one of these offenses relating to a violent or disorderly assembly, you’re not getting bail before your first appearance.”

He added that there will be offense enhancement for charges such as throwing an object during a violent or disorderly assembly as well as assault or battery on a law enforcement officer.

“If you are from another state, and you come to participate in one of these violent or disorderly assemblies, you’re going to have extra penalties imposed on you as well,” DeSantis said.

Other provisions include felony charges for anyone who blocks a roadway and a prohibition on toppling or destroying public property, such as monuments.

As George Floyd protests continue to rock downtown Orlando night after night, new body camera videos released by the Orlando Police Department provide an inside look at the occasionally violent confrontations between officers and demonstrators.

During Monday’s announcement, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd repeatedly held up pictures depicting the difference between peaceful demonstrations and riots that involve violence and looting.

“I truly believe in our God given right and our constitutional right to speak openly and freely to address our government. That’s important. We listen every day. But I’ve also watched across this country when law enforcement officers who put their life on the line were told to stand down, allow them to burn the precinct,” Judd said.

In late May and early June, nearly every weekend in Central Florida was marked by Black Lives Matter protests that largely remained peaceful. Demonstrators were speaking out against the death of George Floyd -- a Black man who died with a white officer’s knee pinned to his neck -- and other acts of police brutality against people of color.

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FILE - In this June 2, 2020 file photo, Protesters rally in Phoenix during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd. Many immigrants feel solidarity with the Black Lives Movement and want to participate in ongoing national marches. But they face an added risk of ending up in immigration custody if they get arrested, even for protesting peacefully. Immigrant advocates say they've been fielding calls from people who want to march but are worried about how it will affect their immigration status. In Phoenix, several young immigrants were arrested at the beginning of the movement. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

A handful of looting incidents and vandalism were reported in the Orlando area, usually during the late-night hours when most of the protest has been dismantled.

There were also times where demonstrators would move onto Interstate 4 and other major roadways.

Body camera video provided by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office shows deputies throwing cannisters of tear gas into the crowds after objects such as rocks and water bottles were thrown at them.

The state has largely been spared from riots seen in areas such as Los Angeles and Portland and DeSantis said that’s because Florida has been tough on quelling any violence before it gets out of hand.

“I think what (this act is) saying is, we are not going to let Florida go down the road that some of these other places have gone. And if you can do this and get away with it, then you’re going to have more people do it. If you do it and you know that there’s going to be a ton of bricks rain down on you, then I think that people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct and ultimately, safe communities are the foundation of everything else that we care about is Floridians,” DeSantis said.

Criticism for the proposal came quickly with one Central Florida lawmaker calling it “fascist election stunt trash.”

“The reality is there already are rules in the book when it comes to damaging property and violence to other people including law enforcement,” Rep. Anna Eskamani said.

She does not think the legislation is necessary.

“We don’t need these type of punitive increases of criminal penalties that are designed to create fear in our community, but to incarcerate folks with no reason beyond the election tactic,” Eskamani said. “Time and time again we see our elective leaders from the republic majority see national rhetoric and localize it and try to make it into an election issue.”

The governor’s office outlined the three major components of the act in a news release issued shortly after the announcement. That information is copied and pasted below:

I. 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.