Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Trio of public safety leaders speak out against the “anti-protest bill” House Bill 1 (HB 1)
TAMPA, FL (March 25, 2021) – As the Florida House prepares to vote on its #1 priority this afternoon, the “Combating Public Disorder” Act, three criminal justice leaders are warning the public—sending the message that House Bill 1 does not offer any new help to police and prosecutors in stopping unrest, and instead steps on every American’s First Amendment rights.
In a press conference Thursday morning, Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, current Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, and former Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre laid out how the proposed “anti-protest law,” commonly called House Bill 1 or HB 1:
Blocks First Amendment rights, dramatically expanding the ways Constitutionally protected protestors can be arrested and charged as a felon.
Doesn’t improve public safety, since existing laws are already powerful enough to limit unrest and hold violent people accountable.
Doesn’t deal with Floridians’ most pressing challenges, ignoring the economy, education, and the pandemic to set this unneeded law as the Legislature’s #1 priority.
In addition, despite the strong rhetoric in the bill, it is based on a weak legal foundation. The speakers explained that because the bill violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly, the first time a prosecutor uses the law, they expect it to be immediately challenged in court, and likely fall apart—making this process even more of a waste of time and taxpayer money.
“House Bill 1, the anti-protest bill, is an unconstitutional waste of time. The bill fails to address the most urgent needs of Floridians. We have hundreds of thousands of people out of work, families working harder than ever to make ends meet… COVID is still an issue… we need to improve our schools, protect our environment, and balance our budget, and this the #1 legislative priority? It is government waste at its finest,” State Attorney Warren said.
“This bill is an insult to law enforcement. It insinuates that law enforcement has not been doing a good job when confronted with either peaceful protestors or bad actors invading peaceful protests. Law enforcement has all the training, all the tools, all the communication it needs in this state. Legislation should address problems—this is a solution looking for a problem,” said former Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre, representing LEAP, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.
“Simply put, House Bill 1 is un-American. It’s an attack on our First Amendment rights. This legislation is not narrowly tailored to serve any legitimate government purpose, but instead has a chilling effect on the exercise of our rights. I believe that any organizers of peaceful protests are going to be reluctant to exercise these rights because, in essence, they and all the other protestors are going to be subject to arrest without bail should anyone decide to engage in any unlawful activity,” said former Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, representing the League of Women Voters.
State Attorney Warren added, “I can’t over-emphasize the practical effect that this law would have. If you have 100 people who are exercising their First Amendment rights to speech and assembly, and three of them do something bad, the other 97 have now committed a crime. That should terrify anyone who cherishes our Constitution, from people who want to protest racial injustice to people who want to assert their Second Amendment rights.”
The “Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act” (commonly called House Bill 1 or HB 1) is scheduled to be voted on today on the floor of the Florida House during its session that begins at 2 p.m. ET. If approved, it will move to the Florida Senate, becoming one step closer to the law of the land in Florida, and potentially copied by other states across the country.
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