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As Gov. DeSantis celebrates signing HB 1, opponents 'terrified' of its impact

'It is the strongest anti rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country'
Ron DeSantis.jpg
Posted at 6:18 PM, Apr 19, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — "We promised, and we delivered," Gov. Ron DeSantis said that Monday as he signed the state's controversial "anti-riot" bill into law.

HB 1, which cleared the Legislature last week, allows local police to challenge budgets, opens communities to liability for poor riot control and creates or strengthens penalties against those it deems rioters.

The new policy took effect immediately.

Formally known as the "Combating Public Disorder Act," the bill was a major agenda item for DeSantis this year. The Republican announced the policy in September 2020 following a handful of violent Black Lives Matter protests across the state and nation.

"I think it's really remarkable," DeSantis said before signing. "If you look at the breadth of this particular piece of legislation, it is the strongest anti rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country."

As the governor and supporters celebrated, the reaction back at the capitol was mixed.

"As a father trying to raise four young Black men in this state, HB 1 terrifies me," said Minority Leader State Rep. Bobby B. DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale. "We know from a lifetime of experience who this will harm, communities of color."

A coalition of state Democrats was fuming as DeSantis made HB1 official. Members called it a dark day in state history. They worried enhanced penalties for violent protest were too broad, police would sweep up peaceful demonstrators and a chilling effect would suppress minority voices.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones
State Sen. Shevrin Jones was among the Democratic Members who vowed to keep fighting against the new policy.

"This is a long game, and it is going to require bold souls," said Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens. "That is why I am happy to stand with my colleagues today and to let Gov. DeSantis know that you have just declared war on the First Amendment in the state of Florida."

State Attorney Andrew Warren called HB 1 a constitutional waste of time.

"We already have laws on the books to prosecute people for attacking law enforcement and burning down buildings and rioting and looting, so simply creating new laws and enhancing penalties is an ineffective and lazy way to address public safety," Warren said.

While Democrats vowed to keep fighting, civil rights groups were waiting and watching, ready to take the policy to court.

"The ACLU has a long history of successfully challenging unconstitutional bills in court," said Micah Kubic, ACLU of Florida executive director. "We are going to take a long hard look at this one too. We'll see where that takes us. But, in the meantime, all of the options are made on the table."

ACLU Statement on HB1
Civil rights groups say they will be ready to take HB1 to court.

Kubic said a challenge could come sooner rather than later as the nation tensely readies for reaction to the Derek Chauvin trial. The former Minneapolis police officer is facing murder charges for the death of George Floyd. Jurors might render a verdict this week.

"Everyone in this country has rights," said Kubic. "Those don't go away, just because the governor signs an unconstitutional bill."

But as opponents railed, political analysts said DeSantis would likely be chalking up a victory, regardless of immediate fallout.

Carol Weissert, Florida State University political scientist
Florida State University political scientist Carol Weissert says HB1 is a political victory for Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Florida State Professor Carol Weissert said HB1 was a promise DeSantis delivered to his supporters. He would now be able to reap benefits as the 2022 election looms, potentially grabbing national attention too.

"I think you're going to see other states, sort of, picking up the the the ideas as well, so yeah, this is a real victory for him," said Weissert. "This is red meat for his base, and I think he succeeded big time."

The next steps depend on what Floridians do in the wake of the expected verdict in Minnesota and how law enforcement reacts with its new authority. That will be HB 1's first true test.