Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing harsh penalties for unruly protests.
In a press conference on Monday in Polk County, DeSantis announced plans to discourage violent protesters. The Republican governor, flanked by law enforcement officers, said tougher measures are needed to counter agitators and disruptors.
The Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act, DeSantis said, would be a focal point of the next legislative session in Tallahassee. DeSantis’ proposal would make it a felony to participate in protests that result in property damage or block roadways. Participating in what the governor deems “violent or disorderly assemblies” would result in six months in jail and loss of state benefits, if convicted.
Nik Harris, the LGBT Consumer Advocate to Commissioner Nikki Fried at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, called DeSantis’ proposal “unconstitutional” and a scary reminder that you get what you vote for — or not vote for.
“Elections have consequences,” Harris said. “This breaks my heart to see the governor trying to criminalize protests. Principles don’t seem to mean very much right now, it’s like we’re living in the wild, wild west.”
DeSantis’ proposal would also put donors at risk of liability under the state’s racketeering (RICO) laws. The governor wants the Republican-controlled legislature to pass his act in November ahead of the regularly scheduled March session.
In a statement, Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) said the proposal is “actively undermining the constitution.”
“We’re going to fight this tooth and nail,” Jones said. “To the governor, with all due respect sir: You’ve just declared war on our civil rights. We are prepared to strap up our boots, in the spirit of John Lewis, and get in some good trouble.”