DeSantis signed the anti-peaceful protest bill into law despite its impact on Floridians’ First Amendment rights
Winter Haven, Fla. -- Today, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB1 into law, despite widespread and diverse opposition to the bill. The anti-peaceful-protest bill will criminalize Floridians exercising their First Amendment right to free speech and increase violence at protests by emboldening vigilantes.
Polling shows 63% of Floridians do not support HB1.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, responded with the following comment:
“Let’s be clear: this is not an anti-riot bill, regardless of what supporters claim. It is a bill that criminalizes peaceful protest, and the impact HB1 will have on Floridians cannot be disputed. Each and every provision harkens back to Jim Crow. Constitutional lawyers and scholars have called the bill overbroad, vague, and warned it will chill free speech. Protesters could be arrested and charged with a felony if others at a protest or gathering became violent or disorderly, even if they themselves didn't.
“The bill creates harsher misdemeanors and felonies for already existing offenses, yet law enforcement and prosecutors already have all of the tools needed to hold bad actors accountable for violence. Further, the Governor and Cabinet could veto a city's budgeting decision if they reallocate any policing resources for other much-needed community services, eroding community control over already scarce resources.
“Economists have warned that the bill will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, creating new jail beds in a mass incarceration system that is already over-bloated and on the brink of collapse. It makes no effort to heighten penalties for driving cars into protestors, rather it shields violent counter-protesters from civil liability if they injure or kill a protester or demonstrator. The bill also protects shrines to white supremacy with enhanced charges for damaging Confederate monuments or the Confederate flag.
“These are just a few of the awful provisions in HB1. And supporters of the bill say that the intent is not to silence dissent?
“Instead of listening to the overwhelming empirical evidence and data showing how dangerous HB1 is, supporters of the bill in the Florida legislature cited stray YouTube videos and Wikipedia as their evidence about why such a bill is needed in our state. However, 95% of protests in Florida in 2020 were peaceful. When police did intervene, it was usually to disperse otherwise peaceful crowds, address traffic concerns or break up fights with counter-protesters. Fewer than 2% of these protests involved vandalism, looting, arson or violence toward law enforcement, and even in that tiny minority of cases, existing laws were sufficient to address those issues.
“Ask yourself this: what problem are Gov. DeSantis and certain members of the Florida legislature trying to solve? To be clear -- the goal of this law is to silence dissent and create fear among Floridians who want to take to the streets to march for justice. It should not be a crime to exist in public space, yet that’s exactly what Gov. DeSantis has done--criminalized being at a protest just because someone else does something wrong.
“Every single Floridian should be outraged by this blatant attempt to erode our First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. It is outrageous and blatantly unconstitutional. Gov. DeSantis’ championing of and signature on this law degrades, debases, and disgraces Florida and our democracy.”