Florida House of representatives passes HB 1 after heated debate

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 4:45 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPS NEWS/WCJB) - The Florida House has approved HB 1, the controversial legislation seeking to increase penalties for crimes committed during a riot.

Roughly five hours of debate brought cries for law and order and racial justice.

Republicans say HB 1 is about public safety, cracking down on protests that escalate to violent riots.

“The First Amendment does not protect violence,” said Representative Cord Byrd, the bill’s prime cosponsor.

Democrats opened their remarks with a symbolic gesture, speaking for the same length of time as George Floyd laid with a knee on his neck.

“Where’s the caring? The empathy? The humanity? Because it’s not in this bill,” said Representative Evan Jenne.

The bill defines a riot, raises penalties for crimes committed during a riot and creates a process for state attorneys to challenge budget reductions to law enforcement.

“We can act before it’s too late. We do not need to have Miami or Orlando or Jacksonville become Kenosha or Seattle or Portland,” said Byrd.

Democrats asserted the bill will be applied unequally, and used to crack down on peaceful protests for racial justice.

“This is not a bill that has any other group in mind other than Black lives. This bill will legalize racism by hindering freedom of speech for a select few,” said Representative Angela Nixon.

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Representative Barnaby Webster, the only Black Republican Florida lawmaker fired back, arguing there is no discriminatory language in the bill.

“Brothers and sisters, you’ve got to use your intelligence a lot better. It’s time to stop this constant refrain of about racism. It’s crazy,” said Webster.

The final vote in the House was 76-39 in favor of HB 1 straight down party lines.

Three Democrats and two Republicans didn’t vote at all.

The vote marks the legislation reaching the halfway point.

It still must clear the Senate, in which it’s yet to be scheduled for even a single hearing.

But procedural maneuvering may still leave open a pathway for the bill to make its way to the Senate floor.

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