TAMPA, FL (March 10, 2021) – As lawmakers sit down to debate Gov. Ron DeSantis’ #1 legislative priority on Wednesday, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren is urging them to reject the bill in a letter just delivered to members of the Legislature.
Warren warns that the “Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act” does not actually help State Attorneys prosecute rioters, and instead chips away at the key First Amendment freedoms of free speech and peaceful assembly.
The Florida House’s Judiciary Committee is set to debate the bill, known as HB 1 and SB 484, at 3:15 p.m. today.
“This bill doesn’t give police or prosecutors any important new tools to handle unrest. It tears a couple corners off the Constitution,” Warren said, describing why he felt compelled to address the issue with the members of the Legislature. “It’s misguided. The public needs to understand this is a waste of valuable time and taxpayer money to keep pushing this bad bill forward.”
In the letter, Warren urges legislators to vote no on the bill because it:
Blocks First Amendment rights
The bill dramatically expands the ways Constitutionally protected protestors can be arrested and charged as a felon. This change “directly undermines First Amendment freedoms by criminalizing peaceful protests by the many based on unlawful conduct by the few.
Doesn’t improve public safety
Even though “inventing new crimes and enhancing the penalties for old ones is a highly ineffective and imprudent way to improve public safety,” that’s exactly what the bill does—despite the fact that existing laws are already powerful enough to limit unrest. For example, the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office is currently prosecuting those responsible for looting and rioting in Tampa using laws currently on the books.
Ignores the biggest problem
The bill doesn’t help police and prosecutors deal with their single biggest challenge related to unlawful unrest: “being able to identify the small number of bad actors in a larger law-abiding group and determine who did what.”
Warren contends that the bill “retreats to the outdated ‘throw-everyone-in-jail’ philosophy that has been revealed as a giant failure—having caused mass incarceration and systemic injustice while perpetuating a revolving door system that undermines the long-term safety of our neighborhoods.”
Wednesday’s letter to legislators follows an op-ed by State Attorney Warren published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel last month, in which he expressed disappointment in Legislative leaders for prioritizing a “solution in search of a problem” rather than addressing the economic, educational, and health care needs of Floridians.
“These are difficult times with difficult problems facing hard-working, patriotic Floridians,” Warren wrote in the op-ed. “They deserve real solutions to actual issues, not political theater. If our elected leaders focused on what Floridians really need—steps to create jobs, fix the unemployment system, and effectively roll out vaccines—they would do far more to strengthen our communities than this bad bill ever will.”
Grayson Kamm, Chief Communications Officer, Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office
813-557-3366 – firstname.lastname@example.org