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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Anti-Rioting Bill Is A 'Lazy' Effort To Deter Protests, Hillsborough State Attorney Says

man speaks in front of seal on a wall
Hillsborough State Attorney's Office

The proposed bill would increase penalties for participating in any violent or disorderly assembly, including a ban on working for the state, as well as allowing no bond or bail for anyone charged with a crime related to rioting or looting.

A bill that would crack down on protestors cleared its final Florida House committee Wednesday, but a Tampa Bay area state attorney has come out against it.

On a 14-7 vote along party lines, the Florida House Judiciary Committee approved the “Combating Public Disorder Act,” also known as HB1.

It now heads to a vote by the full House.

Before that happened, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to vote it down.

He said that the proposed law is “a solution in search of a problem,” and that it does nothing to help law enforcement.

“It simply creates new laws, it enhances existing penalties, which is a really ineffective and frankly, lazy way to improve public safety,” said Warren.

Warren said he believes the bill is a throwback to an older form of governing.

“It really doesn't promote the long-term safety of our communities. It's that failed, tough on crime myth from a prior generation.”

The state attorney for Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit also expressed concern over the politics behind the bill, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis and other leading Republicans.

“My fear is that this bill is political theater, that this is people who aren't serious about finding solutions,” said Warren. “Instead (they) are just trying to come up with bumper sticker slogans that don't actually help the needs of our community.”

Warren accused Republican lawmakers of contradicting their principles, saying that the bill takes the ability to fund policing away from local governments.

“That's supposed to be a conservative principle of small government. But now we have a bill that takes away local control, and puts it in the hands of…people in Tallahassee,” he said.

Warren believes that the bill is likely to face constitutional challenges, as he feels it over criminalizes the right to freely assemble.

He added that if it becomes law, he will not prosecute any peaceful protestors just because they are in the presence of someone else who may commit a crime.

The Senate companion bill, SB 484, has yet to be scheduled for a vote in front of any of the three committees set to hear it.

I am a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News Intern for the spring 2022 semester; this is my second internship with the station.