Apr 1, 2021 - News

What you need to know about Florida's controversial "anti-riot" bill

Protesters laying down in the street

A protester flashes a peace sign while laying in the street during a protest march through downtown Tampa as the Republican National Convention wrapped up in 2012. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The so-called "anti-riot" bill that cleared the House along party lines after weeks of opposition from social justice groups and hours of debate faces an uncertain future in the Senate, per the Associated Press.

Why it matters: The bill would increase penalties for crimes committed during a violent protest, and it would create new felonies for organizing or taking part in demonstrations that turn violent.

  • The sweeping bill would also create roadblocks for local governments to trim police spending.

Black lawmakers hate the bill, calling it a "heartless" return to the Jim Crow era that would stifle dissent.

  • The framework was laid out by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year following largely peaceful protests throughout the country sparked by the death of George Floyd.

The other side: Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) told Axios that the bill is "racially blind" and serves to make peaceful protesters safer.

  • "There are so many people out in the public who have a misunderstanding ... of what the bill actually does," Sprowls said. "I have a deep belief in the First Amendment and the ability of people to address grievances with protest."

Sprowls said that the bill was born in the legislature, not from law enforcement officers who felt hamstrung to respond to violence during protests.

  • "This came from our observations, looking at what was happening across the country," Sprowls said. "I do not want a situation where a protest spirals out of control."

The bill enters the Senate the same week a Tampa man pleaded guilty for starting a protest-related fire that destroyed Champs Sports on Fowler Avenue, and an Army reservist and former Marine sued Tampa after being shot by police with rubber bullets during protests.

Read the bill for yourself

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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