TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's governor used the riots in Washington, D.C. to spur approval of his bill targeting violent demonstrations Thursday. Gov. Ron DeSantis said rioting won't be tolerated in the Sunshine State.
Hours later, DeSantis, speaking at a COVID-19 press event in Bradenton, Florida, tried to capitalize off the terror by touting the protest bill he helped craft.
"I hope maybe now we'll get even more support for my legislation because it's something that needs to be done," the Republican said. "I don't care what banner you're flying. If you're engaging in that conduct, we're going to hold you accountable."
The more than 50-page policy has several provisions. It limits a city's ability to redirect funds from the police to social programs, makes it a felony to destroy "any memorial" in the state, and upgrades penalties for illegal actions during "riots" -- like assaulting another person.
The governor announced the idea last year at the height of the mostly nonviolent Black Lives Matter protests across the state and nation.
At that time, he pushed to get approval before the new year in a mostly ceremonial organizing session, which brings lawmakers back to formally select leadership. It didn't happen.
Democrats have since railed on the policy as dangerous, worried it would discourage people of color from peacefully protesting.
"It’s not going to make any one of us more safe," said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. "It’s purely designed for political gain."
Eskamani, a frequent critic of DeSantis, called the legislation a "joke" and chalked up the governor’s renewed push as an attempt to rewrite history.
"Gov. DeSantis is using this legislation as a political tool that's now being seen as inconvenient," she said. "He's using the terrorist attacks in DC as his beard."
It will be a challenge for Democrats to block the bill. Not only did they lose seats in 2020, but the legislation also has the support of GOP leadership and other prominent members of Florida’s majority party in both chambers.
It's still early in the policy's life cycle. There's a good chance it'll morph a bit during the 2021 lawmaking session, which will start on March 2.