TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers issued a statement Tuesday in response to Governor Ron DeSantis' anti-riot bill calling it "un-American" and a proposal to regulate protests under the guise of preventing rioting, looting, and disorder.
DeSantis' Combatting Violence, Disorder, and Looting, and Law Enforcement Protection Act proposes an increase in penalties for violent protesters, unlawful blocking of roadways, and destruction of public property.
The legislation would also cut state funds to communities that drastically defund police departments.
DeSantis said he thought the Legislature should act on the policy before the end of the year to prevent future violence in the state.
"I think it would send a strong message," DeSantis said. "I think Florida has handled it better, but at the same time … you constantly hear these reports of unrest. You hear threats of more unrest. That's not something we want to deal with without having all the tools at our disposal."
Florida's constitution provides citizens the right to assemble and protest when the government is not responding to the will of the people. However, FACDL contends,non-violent protests will be impacted if the bill becomes law, stating that "parading on streets, assembling at all hours, sit-ins, and other non-destructive activities can be interpreted as violating the laws contemplated by this proposal."
“The proposal by Gov. Ron DeSantis is an attack on the constitution and is aimed at silencing dissent," said Mitch Stone, the president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "It is un-American because the proposed laws will effectively criminalize certain lawful protests."
Stone said if the proposal is enacted into law, it will "deny basic fairness and due process to protesters by in some instances eliminating their right to bail".
The next step will be for lawmakers to craft language for the bill and file it. It would then be eligible for a vote in the coming weeks.