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U.S. Capitol Riot Reinvigorates DeSantis' Proposed Crack Down On Disorderly Protests

Rioters storm the U.S. Capitol building during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.
Rioters storm the U.S. Capitol building during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.

The riot at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday has reinvigorated a Republican-backed effort to crack down on protests.

Gov. Ron DeSantis initially pitched the Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act following the summer’s nationwide demonstrations against police brutality. It was originally met with skepticism by Democrats and even some Republicans. Some GOP lawmakers are now saying the bill is needed now more than ever.

“No matter who it happens by it is wrong and people should be held accountable for it," said Republican State Senator Danny Burgess of Tampa. Burgess sponsored the senate version of the bill. says the proposed legislation was filed in direct response to the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

But the idea for the measure originated over the summer following isolated instances of rioting amid the broader Black Lives Matter protests, which were mostly peaceful.

“A business was burned down in Tampa," Burgess said, referring to a Champs sportswear store that rioters set ablaze. "If we look at some of the protests that took place in St. Pete and look at some of the videos that people posted, there was mob intimidation.”

The bill would increase penalties against people convicted of crimes committed during a riot, including assault, battery and burglary.

“This widening of the net of taking away all excuses for standing in the road or all of these enhancements that are bumping up crimes that shouldn’t be crimes to five-year prison felonies to fifteen-year prison felonies, said Aaron Wayt, a Tallahassee-based criminal defense attorney. "It’s going to wrap a lot of people up in the system that don’t need to be in the system.”

Wayt says the tougher penalties proposed in the bill would also give prosecutors more tools to secure convictions without ever going to trial, which could lead to more people behind bars.

“One of the problems with our criminal justice system is the plea bargaining process where prosecutors have so much power. And so if you’re giving all of these prosecutors ways to enhance crimes, the more enhancements you give them, the more plea bargaining power they will have to force your client to take a deal and not take their case to trial.”

Democrats spoke out against the proposed crack down on disorderly protests when DeSantis first introduced the measure in September.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) says despite what happened at the U.S. Capitol, he remains opposed to the bills in their current form.

“We’re putting a band-aid over something that doesn’t even have a scar here in Florida," Jones said.

“There’s already laws in the books that deals with almost everything that has been outlined in this bill. I just can’t name one thing. There’s already laws on the books.

"There’s no need for this legislation," he said. "We’re wasting time.”

The bill also allows a citizen to petition the state to override local governments that cut law enforcement budgets. It’s a direct response to calls to “defund” police.

“All this is, is feeding into a base that right now we should not be doing. Donald Trump has done enough. And I ask my colleagues to jump off that bandwagon because right now we’re dealing with: We’re dealing with a country that needs healing.”

Jones says he hopes lawmakers instead focus on coronavirus vaccinations, unemployment insurance and getting people back to work during the upcoming legislative session.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.