Virus Outbreak Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures as he speaks during a news conference Monday, July 13, 2020, at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-mob” bill would expand Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to allow armed citizens to shoot anyone engaged in “criminal mischief” that disrupts a business or damages property.

DeSantis introduced in September the parameters of his proposed Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act, which he touted as the “strongest pro-law enforcement, anti-rioting, anti-looting legislation anywhere in the country.”

The governor said the measure was in response to “violent and disorderly assemblies” during summer-long police brutality protests while acknowledging no such events – other than a looting instance at Miami’s Bayside Marketplace – occurred in Florida.

According to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, a draft of DeSantis’ “anti-mob” initiative has been submitted to the Senate Criminal Justice and House Judiciary committees.

The draft seeks to increase criminal penalties for people involved in “violent or disorderly assemblies,” makes blocking traffic during a protest a third-degree felony, offers immunity to drivers who “unintentionally” kill or injure traffic-blocking protesters and withholds state funds from local governments that cut law enforcement budgets.

The bill defines “violent or disorderly assemblies” as gatherings of seven or more people that “substantially obstruct” government functions or services, create “immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons” and deprive any person of a “legal right or disturbs any person in the enjoyment of a legal right.”

The draft legislation requires those charged with “violent or disorderly assembly” remain in jail until a court hearing and mandates government employees convicted of participating in “violent or disorderly assemblies” be fired.

Under the bill, each of Florida’s 400-plus municipalities annually must certify by Oct. 15 it isn’t disproportionately cutting law enforcement funding.

Under Florida law, “forcible felonies” justify lethal self-defense. The proposed bill lengthens the “forcible felonies” list to include criminal mischief that results in “interruption or impairment” of a business and looting, defined as burglary within 500 feet of a “violent or disorderly assembly.”

Expanding “forcible felonies” that justify lethal self-defense correspondingly expands Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, the controversial extension of the Castle Doctrine sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, that allows people to use lethal force “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

After resisting bipartisan appeals for a special session to deal with pandemic-induced issues, when DeSantis introduced his “anti-mob” initiative in September, he urged lawmakers to convene a special session during their organizational gathering Tuesday to adopt his measure.

"It may be something where you need to act," he said.

Lawmakers had not acted as of Wednesday. As scheduled, the Senate and House will hold organization sessions Tuesday to swear in newly elected members and officers, including House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill.

Neither new chamber leader has posted any variation from the scheduled Legislator University in December and committee weeks beginning in January. No bill seeking to enact DeSantis’ proposal has been pre-filed, nor has any lawmaker announced intent to do so.

Attorneys across the state say DeSantis’ “anti-mob” initiative is blatantly unconstitutional, and Democrats call it an “outrageous prioritization of a non-issue” and “fear tactic” to amplify President Donald Trump’s law-and-order campaign.

While most Florida Republicans have deferred recognizing former Vice President Joe Biden as the presumptive president-elect until recounts and court cases are resolved, the governor vocally supports Trump’s claims that Democrats stole the election.

He called on Pennsylvania and Michigan legislators last week to negate their popular votes for Biden and send “faithless” Trump electors to the Dec. 14 Electoral College.

DeSantis also faces increasing criticism from local government officials for implementing what they claim is a herd immunity strategy for COVID-19 without Floridians’ knowledge.