TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The "anti-riot" bill is one step from the governor. After a heated, hours-long committee meeting, a Senate panel advanced the measure 11-9 to the chamber floor, the bill's last stop.
HB1 may be the most controversial policy getting traction this year. As evidence, lawmakers set aside nine and a half hours to talk about it Friday, using more than eight hours for discussion.
Even before the vote was in, Jacksonville resident Diallo-Sekou felt the GOP-majority pushing HB1 wasn't listening.
"It's a horse and pony show," he said in frustration. "So, what are we doing?"
He was one of the dozens driving hours to be at the nearby Tucker Civics Center for public testimony. Many people there feared the "anti-riot" bill would become an anti-protest law, especially for minorities.
"We're trying to organize, keep people's voice heard, keep the subject matter in the news," Diallo said. "If something happens, it happens. But remember what this country was based on."
The governor proposed the bill following a violent protest in Tampa last year. If approved, it would allow police to challenge their budget, opens communities to liability for poor riot control and create or strengthens penalties against violent actors.
The policy's sponsor, State Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, said the goal is safe communities, suppress crime and protect rights.
"In no way, shape or form does this interfere with an individual's right to free speech," said the freshman senator. "You have the right to free speech all day long and six ways to Sunday, but you do not have the right to act violently."
Democrats in committee, unified in opposition, tried to water down the policy with 12 amendments. None received adoption despite members calling HB1 dangerous, costly and too broad.
"It’s such the right thing to do to vote no that none of you -- none of you have even a half-ass reason to vote yes," said Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami. "Everybody who is going to be voting yes in the majority -- like I said before -- has never had to worry about what water fountain, what bus seat, what school they had to go to."
The full Senate now holds HB1's fate. While opponents do have some bipartisan opposition to the bill, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, they will need more if they hope to stop it on the floor.