After pledging to crack down on “violent and disorderly assemblies,” Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has drafted legislation which expands on Florida’s “stand your ground” law. His proposal would increase the list of “forcible felonies” under Florida’s self-defense law to justify the use of force against people who engage in criminal mischief that results in the “interruption or impairment” of a business, and looting, which the draft defines as a burglary within 500 feet of a “violent or disorderly assembly.”
Peeling Back the Layers
Joe Gruters, a Republican member of the Florida State Senate, said the governor “has the right idea” with his proposed bill. He urged state lawmakers to consider the proposal sooner than later. DeSantis’ legislation:
- Recommends additional penalties against people involved in “violent or disorderly assemblies” — gatherings of seven people or more that “substantially obstruct” government functions or services, create “immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons,” and that deprive any person of a “legal right or disturbs any person in the enjoyment of a legal right.”
- Provides judges more leeway to grant “immunity” to someone they believe acted in self-defense before letting a case get to a jury.
- Prohibits anyone charged with crimes related to such assemblies from being released on bail or bond before an initial court hearing before a judge “in order to ensure the full participation of the prosecutors and the protection of the public.”
- Recommends that any government employee convicted of participating in such assemblies would be fired (non-government employees would be ineligible for reemployment assistance benefits).
- Targets counties and municipalities that make “disproportionate funding reductions” to law enforcement budgets, a push against movements to “defunding the police.” Under the governor’s proposal, each must certify that it is not disproportionately cutting law enforcement funding. It would withhold state funds from local governments that cut law enforcement budgets.
DeSantis’ proposed bill is not without its critics. “It’s clear that the Trump beauty pageant is still going on with governors and senators, who all want to be the next Trump,” remarked Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a former federal prosecutor and Democratic state legislator.
Some attorneys are raising concerns about the governor’s draft, including the expansion of Florida’s stand your ground law. These opponents claim it fosters a Wild West “shoot-first, ask-questions-later” mentality.
“The laws existing in Florida have been able to address social situations in the past. These [proposals] address no gaps in the current laws,” Miami defense lawyer Phil Reizenstein stated. “It’s bad policy to enact criminal statutes for transient political issues. Time and money are better spent addressing the underlying causes of the unrest.”
Melba Pearson, a civil-rights attorney and former deputy director of Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said the bill is “designed to tamp down on First Amendment rights of protesters.” Florida did not experience large-scale clashes between police and protesters like other states. “These are not mobs running around the street. People are using their First Amendment rights. This is a democracy, lest some in Tallahassee forget.”
We’ll See What 2021 Brings
DeSantis has now circulated a draft version of the bill to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and the House Judiciary Committee. No bills have yet been filed in either the House or Senate, and no legislators have publicly said they will sponsor the proposal ahead of the 2021 legislative session, which convenes on March 2, 2021. Committees will begin meeting in January 2021.
About Rick Sapp
Rick Sapp earned his Ph.D. in social anthropology after his time in the U.S. Army working for the 66th Military Intelligence Group, USAREUR, during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Following his time in Paris, France, he worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service before turning to journalism and freelance writing. Along with being published in several newspapers and magazines, Rick has authored more than 50 books for a variety of publishers.