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Gov. Ron DeSantis is seeking to expand Florida’s self-defense law and reportedly drafted “anti-mob” legislation in response to this summer’s protests and riots.
The Republican lawmaker is proposing to expand the state’s Stand Your Ground law in a bill that could allow armed citizens to shoot someone suspected of looting businesses. While the governor is following through on his strong “law and order” stand, critics have already spoken out against the draft over fears that it will allow armed “vigilantes” to shoot and potentially kill anyone suspected looting or rioting.
DeSantis vowed to crack down on “violent and disorderly assemblies” back in September and, in the weeks leading up to the election, reiterated his “law and order” promise to push legislation in the wake of several months of unrest in the U.S., echoing the strong stance by President Donald Trump.
A draft version of the bill was reportedly submitted to the state’s Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and the House Judiciary Committee, according to emails and a copy of the proposal obtained by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.
The proposed bill would expand criminal penalties for anyone involved in “violent or disorderly assemblies.” In addition, the legislation would charge anyone blocking traffic during a protest with a third-degree felony, as well as grant immunity to a driver who claims to have unintentionally killed or injured protesters who were blocking traffic.
Gatherings of seven or more people that “substantially obstruct” government functions, that create “immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons,” and that deprive others of a “legal right or disturbs any person in the enjoyment of a legal right” would be considered part of “violent or disorderly assemblies.” Government employees taking part in such assemblies would be terminated, according to the draft.
According to the Tampa Bay Times:
The proposal would expand 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.”
The state would also be allowed to withhold funds from any local governments that choose to cut law enforcement budgets.
“The certification must include a statement that any reduction in funding or proposed funding is a result of reduced revenue collection and is proportionate to that reduction in revenue,” the draft bill states. To be proportionate, any cut would need to “remain within three percentage points of the percentage decrease in total revenue from the previous fiscal year to the current fiscal year.”
Democrats are already incensed at the proposal.
“This whole effort is political theater,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said. “We already have the tools we need to prosecute people who create unrest and violence, and Florida has largely kept that kind of behavior in check, which is why it seems like this is just about putting on a political show.”
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a former federal prosecutor, claimed the draft “sounds like an invitation to incite violence.”
“It’s clear that the Trump beauty pageant is still going on with governors and senators, who all want to be the next Trump. And the governor is clearly a very good contestant,” said the former Democratic state legislator who was a critic of the Stand Your Ground law when it first passed in 2005.
“It allows for vigilantes to justify their actions,” former Miami-Dade County prosecutor, Denise Georges, told the Miami Herald. “It also allows for death to be the punishment for a property crime — and that is cruel and unusual punishment. We cannot live in a lawless society where taking a life is done so casually and recklessly.”
Florida’s 2021 legislative session begins in March and, as of now, no legislators have sponsored the proposal and no bills have been filed in either the House or Senate, The Times reported.
DeSantis “has the right idea” with the proposal, Sarasota Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters told the newspaper on Monday. Gruters, who also serves as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, added that he “will definitely be supporting it however I can,” but did not reportedly say if he would be sponsoring it.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri indicated that sheriffs want to “review” the proposal before making any further comments.
“The sheriffs want to review it and look forward to the proposed bill that comes out of drafting, and we will carefully analyze and consider it, and take a position once we see the final form,” the legislative chair of the Florida Sheriffs Association said on Tuesday.
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