Tallahassee, FL — Earlier today, the Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee passed House Bill 1. If passed by the full House and Senate, the bill would enact Governor Ron DeSantis’ priority legislation seeking to criminalize First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. Under this bill, police could arrest peaceful protesters when violence occurs at a rally even when those individuals have not engaged in any violence.
The Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform opposes this bill and its companion, Senate Bill 484.
The legislation is completely unnecessary. Law enforcement and prosecutors already have the tools needed to deal with any violence committed during a protest. If it becomes law, this legislation would have a chilling effect on people exercising their First Amendment rights. Protesters peacefully marching or rallying on any issue face the threat of criminal prosecution anytime they choose to march in public.
The following is a statement from Carrie Boyd, policy director for SPLC Action Fund.
“It’s hard to put into words how bad this legislation is because no one knows all the ways in which it could be potentially used or abused. It gives law enforcement and prosecutors more power than they should possess. The legislation was originally proposed after the Black Lives Matter protests, but the truth is that anyone who takes part in a protest or rally is in danger of being prosecuted if this becomes law. It will have a chilling effect on the right of free assembly that most Americans claim to love and cherish.”
The following is a statement from Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel for the ACLU of Florida.
“This bill is entirely unnecessary and will cost the state millions to implement. The vast majority of protests in Florida have been peaceful and law enforcement has all the tools they need to arrest and prosecute bad actors. Under existing Florida law, it’s already a felony to commit a riot. What this bill does is allow law enforcement to arrest peaceful protesters and charge them with rioting even though they didn’t engage in any violent or disorderly conduct at all. In other words, this bill doesn’t address bad actors, it criminalizes peaceful protesters. There is nothing more chilling to speech than criminalizing people for engaging in it.”
For a full list of organizations involved in the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, go to https://www.betterjusticefl.com/.