For Immediate Release, January 7, 2021

Contact:

Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

Florida Legislature Proposes to Strip First Amendment Rights of Protestors

Bills Respond to Gov. DeSantis’ Call to Curtail Free Speech, Right to Assembly

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Identical bills proposed by the Florida Senate and House would dramatically curtail free speech and the right to assembly and slash legal protections for protestors while increasing penalties for damaging a “memorial.”

The bills were proposed on Wednesday in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call for lawmakers to limit protestors’ First Amendment rights to speech and assembly in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.

“These shockingly un-American bills seek to unconstitutionally silence the voices of those fighting for racial justice and equality, and by extension any citizens trying to speak up for what they believe is right, from the protection of people to the protection of the environment and wildlife,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Floridians will not stand for this dangerous lurch toward fascism.”

Senate Bill 484, filed by newly elected Sen. Danny Burgess (R-Tampa), along with its companion bill, House Bill 1, filed by Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin (R-Miami), would:

  • Authorize a resident of a municipality to file an appeal challenging any reduction to the operating budget of that municipality’s law enforcement agency;
  • Deny the First Amendment right to assemble by making it unlawful to stand or walk in a public street, regardless of whether you have a permit to lawfully do so;
  • Waive sovereign immunity for any municipality that “intentionally obstructs or interferes” with its law enforcement agency’s efforts to provide law enforcement protection during a riot or “unlawful assembly”;
  • Prohibit two or more people from compelling or inducing another person by force or “threat of force” to assume or abandon a particular viewpoint;
  • Increase the penalties for an assault or battery if it is committed in furtherance of any gathering declared to be a riot;
  • Require anyone arrested during a protest to be held in jail until their first court appearance;
  • Make it a felony to damage a “memorial”; and
  • Create an affirmative defense to a civil action where the victim of an injury, death, or property damage is accused of participating in a riot or “unlawful assembly.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.