HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — After a few tweaks, a bill aimed at punishing rioters makes it one step closer to becoming law. State Attorney Andrew Warren says this doesn't help his office at all and a local pastor believes it could classify his church members as felons.
"I drove the 300 miles to plead with you to vote no on HB1," Rev. Andy Oliver with Allendale United Methodist Church said.
Despite Rev. Oliver's pleas, almost 40 other concerned citizens' opposition and about two hours of debate among lawmakers, a 14-7 vote in the judiciary committee will move HB1 to the House floor. A committee substitute that changes much of the original language of the bill has since been filed.
Rev. Oliver says had HB1 been in place last summer when he and his congregation marched for racial equality, they could've been arrested.
"It would have made felons of my 85-year-old church ladies and my 11-year-old and 8-year-old," Rev. Oliver said.
But the sponsor of the bill says it explicitly targets bad apples in the group.
“The keyword in all of this is 'violence,'" Sen. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin (R - Miami-Dade) said. "I am absolutely in favor of peaceful protests."
The analysis of the bill in the judicial committee hearing documents specifically brings up incidents in Tampa last year.
"We don't need new laws to do it. We have all the tools we need in place," State Attorney Andrew Warren says.
Warren is currently prosecuting 294 cases stemming from rioting that happened this summer. He says the bill infringes on fundamental rights.
"It stifles free speech," Warren said. "It discourages people from exercising their right to assemble."
"Even if it means risking getting a felon, I would rather become a felon than be on the wrong side of history and not stand up," Rev. Oliver said.
HB1 also details what could happen if a city decides to decrease the budget of law enforcement agencies. An objecting city council member, county commissioner or state attorney can file an appeal to the Administration Commission, which is made up of the Governor and his cabinet. Their ruling would be final.
To read HB1, click here.