Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff said Thursday that he will approve an "anti-riot" bill that would impose harsher criminal penalties on violent protesters once finalized.
Florida’s Senate approved HB 1 in a 23-17 vote, mostly along party lines, the Orlando Sentinel reported. DeSantis initially unveiled the proposal last September and was a vocal advocate for its passage amid nationwide protests that prompted violence and looting in major cities.
"This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished," the governor’s office said in a statement. "Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police."
"The Governor looks forward to signing HB 1 into law," his office added.
Aside from the enhanced criminal penalties for acts of violence during a riot, the bill contains a measure requiring state approval for any change to a municipal budget that would reduce funding for police. The clause was a response to calls to "defund the police" after the death of George Floyd last May.
HB 1 institutes a felony charge for the destruction of a memorial, flag or other historical structure. It would also hold local governments civilly liable if they interfere with law enforcement efforts to respond to riots.
The bill passed the Senate despite vocal opposition from Democrats and civil rights groups who argued it was an infringement on the First Amendment. Republicans argued the legislation was meant to crack down on violence and was not politically motivated.
Critics accused DeSantis and other Republicans of attempting to stifle peaceful dissent. The GOP-controlled state Senate rejected a number of amendments that would have narrowed the bill’s scope and enacted stricter penalties for police officers who harm protestors.
"This won’t stop anything, except those who are afraid. I’m not afraid," said Florida Sen. Daryl Rouson, a Democrat. "I just want to say to people, keep on knocking, keep on protesting, keep on rising in spite of an attempt to stifle voices."