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DeSantis Proposes Legislation That Would Withhold Funding From Cities That 'Defund The Police'

Governor Ron DeSantis debuted new priority legislation for the 2021 session Monday, flanked by Republican state leadership and law enforcement officers from Polk County
The Florida Channel
Governor Ron DeSantis debuted new priority legislation for the 2021 session Monday, flanked by Republican state leadership and law enforcement officers from Polk County

Governor Ron DeSantis wants to make a crackdown on what he calls “disorderly assemblies” a focal point of the coming legislative session.

In keeping with President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign’s focus on being the “party of law and order,” DeSantis is proposing legislation that stiffens penalties for violence at protests.

Dubbed the “Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” the measure would create a six-month mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone who strikes an officer. It also makes it a felony to obstruct a roadway or deface monuments as part of a “violent or disorderly assembly.”

Going a step further, the proposal also withholds state funding and grants from local governments that attempt to slash law enforcement budgets.

DeSantis debuted the legislation alongside local law enforcement in Polk County.

“I think we need to do more in terms of having a strong legislative response, so that we do not always have to play ‘whack-a-mole’ any time you have situations like this develop,” the governor told media. “So, I’m proud today to be able to announce what will be a focal point of the next legislative session.”

The proposed measure, which DeSantis says will likely be the “boldest” in the country, also received some immediate Republican backing. DeSantis was joined at the press event by incoming Senate president, Wilton Simpson, who said he’s “looking forward to making sure this becomes law.”

Republican House Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls was also on hand for the announcement:

“It’s a unique day because here in the state of Florida today, you have the governor, you have the incoming senate president, and many men and women here from law enforcement across the state, who are making it very clear that our number one priority in government in the State of Florida is to protect people’s lives, their communities, their neighborhoods, and their property,” Sprowls said.

Meanwhile, organizations like the ACLU of Florida are sounding off on the governor’s proposal. Kara Gross is the group’s legislative director.

“This is obviously a blatant attempt to silence and criminalize and penalize Floridians who want to end racial injustice and systemic racism,” Gross told WFSU Monday.

Gross says it’s “disheartening” to see the governor and incoming leaders of both chambers prioritizing the crackdown while COVID-19 remains a public health crisis.

“Instead of prioritizing the needs of everyday Floridians, the governor is choosing to prioritize silencing dissent,” Gross added. “At this time, we need police accountability, not criminalization of protesters. And we need legislation addressing systemic racism, not legislation furthering racial injustice.”

Reactions poured in Monday decrying the provision of the measure that would threaten funding for localities that cut police funding as being against home rule.

But Northwest Florida League of Cities president Bob Campbell, who is mayor of DeFuniak Springs, backs the governor’s proposal.

“Well, certainly we like home rule, but this is a precedent that’s got to be stopped,” Campbell said. “The defunding of police does horrific damage to our cities and our citizens – I really am very in favor of him taking this action.”

DeSantis’ proposal also goes after those who organize or fund demonstrations that get disorderly or violent. The legislation would impose RICO liability, under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, for anyone found to be doing so.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.