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Of all the bills slammed through the Florida Legislature this session – sometimes revived late at night and then quickly passed by GOP lawmakers – the most egregious is House Bill 1.

It’s Governor Ron DeSantis’ baby, and he’s already signed it.

The session is about to end, but HB 1 has set the stage for this year’s legislative theme: stripping power from local governments and trampling on the constitutional rights of Floridians.

Civil rights attorneys at a nonprofit called the Lawyers Matter Task Force, and other plaintiffs, have already filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s new law, concocted to have a chilling effect on those who descend into the law. street to protest against denied rights – an American tradition for a long time that the governor of Florida wants to abruptly break.

This trial is one of the best things to come out of a mean-spirited legislative session that resulted in little to applaud.

HB 1 is an insidious, anti-democratic, anti-American law, an edict that an autocrat could have concocted.

An attempt to silence

Intended to crack down on social justice protests, the bill increases penalties for crimes committed during protests, but also allows peaceful protesters and uninvolved bystanders to be picked up and dragged by police during protests where violence is occurring. occur.

Black Floridians, in particular, say it is an attempt to silence their demands for social justice – recently reinvigorated after the death of George Floyd last year.

Before signing the bill, DeSantis said, “We wanted to make sure we were able to protect our great state’s people, businesses and property from any type of mob activity or violent gatherings. “

“Crowd activity” and “violent gatherings” are unacceptable. But the same goes for the police to decide what exactly a “riot” is and to cast the widest possible net on those in the vicinity of a demonstration. HB 1 ignores the fact that there are already strict laws against such violence and destruction of property.

Worse yet, HB 1 creates a new category of violent criminal behavior – then, harshly, protects it.

The law provides cover for vigilantes and counter-demonstrators who injure or kill “rioters”, letting them escape responsibility in a civil lawsuit.

What is a riot?

“Bill 1 is a terrible injustice to the citizens of Florida and violates multiple constitutional rights,” said Shannon Ligon, who founded the group challenging the new law in federal court in Orlando. He names DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Orange County Sheriff John Mina as his accused.

Under the new law, peaceful protests could be “characterized as a” riot “due solely to the fault of one or two people, the plaintiffs wrote.

The law, among other things, creates a new crime of “aggravated riot” punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a new crime of “mob intimidation”, making it illegal “for one. person assembled with two or more other persons and acting with a common intention, to use force or threaten to use imminent force, to coerce or induce, or to attempt to coerce or induce another person to to do or to refrain from doing an act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular point of view against his will. “

But there is still something called free speech, and Floridians should fervently hope the court will remind the governor of it.

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