WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Florida's governor wants to crack down on violent and disorderly protests that shut down roads and threaten the safety of the public and law enforcement officers.
Speaking at the Polk County Sheriff's Office on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the creation of the Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act, which needs to be voted on by the state Legislature.
"Recently in our country we have seen attacks on law enforcement," DeSantis said. "We've seen disorder and tumult in many cities across the country."
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Calling it the "boldest and most comprehensive piece of legislation" like this in the country, DeSantis said, if approved, the bill would make it a third-degree felony if you take part in a violent or disorderly assembly.
In addition, you could be charged with a felony if you "incapacitate" roadways, destroy or topple public property, or harass innocent people during protests.
"We've seen people take over interstates. That is absolutely hazardous, it's not fair to motorists who may get caught up in that," DeSantis said.
That was the case back in May when hundreds of demonstrators marched across Interstate 95 near Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach in response to the police-involved death of George Floyd, shutting down traffic on the highway.
Police said that, at some point during the rally, protesters started attacking police officers, hurling rocks and bottles at them.
"If you are involved in a violent or disorderly assembly and you harm somebody, if you throw a brick and hit a police officer, you're going to jail," DeSantis said on Monday.
The governor added that anyone who strikes a police officer could face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least six months and won't be granted bail before their first appearance in court.
In addition, there will be enhanced penalties for people who throw objects or assault law enforcement officers during assemblies.
"If you can do this and get away with it, then you're gonna have more people do it," DeSantis said. "If you do it and you know that there's gonna be a ton of bricks rained down on you, then I think that people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct."
Officials said the Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act will be taken up during the next legislative session in Florida, which is scheduled to begin next March.
"What we're sending the signal is, Florida is kinda off the table for you," DeSantis said. "It's not gonna end well for you here."