New Florida Law Increases Penalties For Highway Protesters, Protects Drivers Acting in Self-Defense
Tallahassee, FL – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed new legislation into law today to crack down on “violent protesters” and increase penalties for people who block and obstruct roadways.
The legislation known as the Combating Public Disorder Act — or the “anti-riot” bill — was introduced in January of 2021.
Gov. DeSantis first unveiled the proposal last September in the wake of a summer of widespread social unrest following the death of George Floyd.
At Monday’s bill signing ceremony, Gov. Desantis called the bill the “strongest anti-rioting pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.”
“We saw unprecedented rioting and disorder throughout the summer of 2020 and we said, ‘That’s not going to happen here in the state of Florida,’” the Governor said. “We wanted to make sure we were able to protect the people of our great state, people’s businesses and property against any type of mob activity or violent assemblies.”
The new law increases criminal penalties for protesters who “willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road.”
“Just think about it… you are driving home from work and all of a sudden you have people out there shutting down a highway. If people do that there needs to be swift penalties,” Gov. DeSantis declared.
According to the law, a person could now face up to 15 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine for “aggravated rioting,” which includes offenses such as: causing great bodily harm to a person not participating in the riot; causing property damage in excess of $5,000; displaying, threatening to use, or attempting to use a deadly weapon; and by force or threats of force endangering the safe movement of a vehicle traveling on a public street highway or road.
It also provides civil immunity to drivers who strike highway protesters in an act of self-defense.
Additionally, the law requires people accused of rioting to remain in jail until after their first court appearance, and increases penalties for assaulting law enforcement officers while engaging in a riot.
It also strips sovereign immunity protection from local governments that prevent law enforcement from acting to stop an ongoing riot.
Thus, those harmed in a violent assembly can now hold the local government civilly liable for “specified damages proximately caused by the municipality’s specified breach of such duty.”
The bill was fiercely protested by opponents who claim the law will serve to stifle free speech and criminalize peaceful protests.
Dozens of states around the nation are also currently considering similar legislation.