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Senate Sends Protest Bill To DeSantis As Democrats Mull Next Steps

blue and red lights flash on a police car. The sky behind the lights is dark.
Photo by Andrea Ferrario on Unsplash

Florida Democrats are calling out Republican’s defense of a bill that is aimed at cracking down on violent protests. The measure was first announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis in September, following a summer of protests fueled by the death of George Floyd. The bill is now on its way to the governor’s desk after a heated, and emotional debate on the Senate floor. Now Democrats and activists are considering their next move.

DeSantis announced the proposal at a September press conference flanked by Republican legislative leaders and law enforcement officers.

“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. So, I’m proud today to be able to announce what will be a focal point of the next legislative session," he said.

The announcement followed social protests in Florida and across the county after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. It also came amid a presidential campaign, with former President Donald Trump using the protests to highlight what he described as a need for “law and order”. Fort Lauderdale Senator Perry Thurston says HB1 is a result of that.

“It started with President Trump calling the Governors across the nation 'weak' and 'losers' and saying they would be run over if they didn’t put an end to the Black Lives Matter movement. HB1 is a result of that call and our governor jumping to whatever the president asked him to do. He was his do-boy, and now we have HB1 and the people of Florida have to live with that.”

DeSantis’ protest bill was initially met with lukewarm support by Republicans then, January 6th happened. The insurrection at the United States Capitol breathed life into the proposal. Miami Gardens Democratic Senator Shevrin Jones says the insurrection gave DeSantis and legislative Republicans an opportunity to reframe the conversation around the bill in a way Democrats don’t buy.

“He can’t put this off on the Jan. 6th insurrection. The only thing he can put this off on is that he came up with this bill when he saw people out protesting for George Floyd and what constantly keeps happening in the Black community," Jones said.

The bill’s origins, says Jones, cannot and shouldn’t be overlooked.

“I listened to my colleagues as they spoke and they said they don’t have a racist bone in their body…but if you say that, it has to line up with your actions. And their actions didn’t line up today. Because at its core, HB1 is racist.”

Following the Senate’s vote, the chamber’s president, Wilton Simpson described the debate as “lively”. Democrats are already floating the possibility of lawsuits. Simpson says he’s not that concerned.

“I think this bill was very well debated. I think the Senate was very respectful…very collegial, and I was very proud of how collegial the Senate was. You heard a lot of emotional debate on that bill…I thought it was well done. I was supportive of that bill and I think it’s a very good bill for the state of Florida.”

The bill increases penalties for crimes committed during protests and creates some new ones like mob intimidation, cyber intimidation commonly called doxing-- and the destruction of monuments and historical properties. The bill also creates a procedure to contest local decisions that result in budget cuts to police departments. DeSantis has said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk. It would become law immediately upon his signature.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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