(The Center Square) – No effort to defund police has gained traction in Florida, but under a law proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, pandemic-stressed elected officials could be intimidated from trimming law enforcement budgets, critics said.
Flanked by Senate president-designate Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, and House speaker-designate Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, DeSantis introduced his proposed Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act in Winter Haven on Monday.
The proposal, the governor’s first piece of recommended legislation for 2021, creates felony offenses “when seven or more persons are involved in an assembly and cause damage to property or injury to other persons,” for acts such as tearing down statues and obstructing traffic.
The bill denies bail until a hearing for those arrested under its provisions, includes a clause stating drivers are “not liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob” and withholds state funding to local governments that “slash” law enforcement budgets.
“If you defund the police, then the state is going to defund you,” DeSantis told reporters and repeated Monday night on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News’ show.
DeSantis attempted to quantify what the bill means by sanctioning local governments that “slash” law enforcement budgets.
“If you have a tough budget year and you do cuts, it is what it is. But if you single out, disproportionately, reducing law enforcement or cutting back law enforcement funding, that’s when, that’s when this would detach,” DeSantis said.
Florida local governments are adopting fiscal year 2021 budgets effective Oct. 1. The only city in the state looking at trimming law enforcement funding is Miami, which faces a $20 million shortfall this fiscal year and a $33 million gap next year. The city proposes eliminating 26 police positions; 25 are civilian posts.
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Executive Director Micah Kubic said DeSantis’ bill denies local taxpayers the right to determine how their tax dollars are spent.
“Local governments and their residents have every right to reallocate their budget to reflect the needs and values of their communities,” Kubic said. “This proposed bill would punish local communities for addressing how best to use taxpayer dollars in their communities by divesting from overly funded police departments and investing resources back into other much-needed community resources and services.”
DeSantis admitted no local governments are “defunding” police and violence is not roiling state streets. He praised Florida protesters for being “legitimately nonviolent.”
“You didn’t see the type of disorder in Florida that you did throughout many other parts in the country. But I think we need to do more than what we’ve already done,” DeSantis said, citing visions gleaned from TV.
“You’ll have situations where buildings will be in flames and on TV, even though sometimes the news will say it’s peaceful, you see the flames behind there,” DeSantis said. “You see these videos of these innocent people eating dinner, and you have these crazed lunatics just screaming at them and intimidating them. You’re not going to do that here in the state of Florida.”
TV is not Florida’s reality, said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.
“The governor could not name a single city, a single town, or a single community in Florida that was the victim of violent protests, because there has been none,” he said.
“Let’s be clear of what this is: 100% an election stunt,” tweeted Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.
Perhaps, DeSantis acknowledged.
“Every person running for office this year – whether you’re running for the House, whether you’re running for the Senate – you have an obligation to let the voters know where you stand on this bill,” he said. “Are you going to stand with victims, are you going to stand with law enforcement, are you going to stand for law and order and communities or, are you going to stand with the mob?”