Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed an “anti-riot” bill into law, increasing law enforcement’s authority to shut down civil unrest.
“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,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “There’s just nothing even close.”
The new law gives civil legal immunity to individuals who drive through protesters blocking a road and also makes blocking a highway a felony offense, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
It also creates a sweeping category for misdemeanor arrests during protests. Anyone charged under that provision will be denied bail until their first court appearance in an effort to keep people from rejoining ongoing protests, the governor said.
Advocates say the law will protect law enforcement and private property against rioters, though opponents have argued that the bill, which passed mostly along party lines, will infringe upon the First Amendment right to protest. Opponents argue that the new legislation will make it easier for law enforcement to charge people involved in a protest who had not even engaged in violent activity.
Democratic state Senator Shevrin Jones said that the law “undermines every Floridian’s constitutional rights, and it is disgusting that the GOP would rather empower vigilantes and silence voices than listen to the majority of Floridians who oppose this dangerous bill.”
“The governor’s spectacle is a distraction that will only further disenfranchise Black and brown communities,” she added.
The law also safeguards Confederate monuments and other memorials, statues and historic property.
“We also saw around the country people toppling monuments of people like George Washington,” DeSantis said. “This bill protects all monuments in Florida. You have no right to go in and take down monuments, we’re not going to let the mob win the day with that.”
The signing comes as a jury is expected to reach a verdict this week in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd during his arrest last year. DeSantis suggested that Chauvin might be acquitted and that the state was “prepared” for any unrest that may follow, though the Sunshine State had been largely spared from last summer’s violent rioting in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” DeSantis said. “But I can tell you that case was bungled by the attorney general there in Minnesota. They didn’t handle it properly. And so there may be people disappointed.”
Of the protests that did occur in Florida, most citations and charges against protesters last year were dropped, dismissed or not filed, according to The Guardian. Eighty of about 100 arrests on charges of disorderly conduct in Orlando during the first week of protests last year were ultimately dropped.