April 19 (UPI) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed an “anti-riot” bill into law, increasing penalties for people who participate in unruly protests.
The measure, which goes into effect immediately, increases the charge for protesters who destroy historical structures such as flags and memorials, raises the charge for battery on a police officer to a minimum of six months in jail and bars protesters arrested during a riot from posting bail until after their first court date.
It also grants civil legal immunity to individuals who drive through roads blocked off by protesters and makes blocking a highway a felony offense. Cities also will be required to receive approval from the state before cutting their police budgets.
During a press conference announcing the signing, DeSantis, a Republican, hailed the legislation as “the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.”
“In Florida, we are taking an unapologetic stand for the rule of law and public safety. We are holding those who incite violence in our communities accountable, supporting our law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and protecting Floridians from the chaos of mob violence,” he said.
Supporters of the legislation said that it would maintain the right to protest while protecting law enforcement.
“We respect the right of people to peaceably assemble and make their views known on issues of public policy, but rioting, violence and destruction of property cannot and will not be tolerated in Florida,” Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said.
The Florida branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, however, denounced the measure, saying that it “criminalizes peaceful protest.”
“To be clear — the goal of this law is to silence dissent and create fear among Floridians who want to take to the streets and march for justice,” Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida said.
“It should not be a crime to exist in public space, yet that’s exactly what Gov. DeSantis has done — criminalized being at a protest just because someone else does something wrong.”