Orlando clergy members issue concerns over bill aimed at cracking down on protesting in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla — On Sept. 21, 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis flanked by legislative leaders and law enforcement, called for the creation of a new law to crack down on protests after he witnessed them unfold across the country.

But months later local clergy members have said they are in opposition to the bill.

The bill was trimmed back following the riot at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, but, as written, it would create a host of new crimes related to protesting, including increased penalties for assault, battery and burglary or damaging a memorial.

READ: Central Florida faith leaders push back against Governor’s proposed protest regulations

The bill mandates jail time for those arrested on certain charges and restricts what a city can do with its police funding.

The measure already has the backing of House and Senate leadership. Senator Wilton Simpson told his colleagues today they hope to have “this legislation that will hopefully be enacted in the next few months.”

READ: Protests at state capitol in Tallahassee fizzle out

But experts say it is fraught with problems.

FAMU Law Professor Jeremy Levitt says, “It essentially takes people who are claiming their First Amendment and puts them on a very narrow tread so if they make any mistake or error as perceived by law enforcement the power by law enforcement is greater to arrest them.”

Levitt also believes this could set up the state for years of litigation and challenges by those arrested.

READ: Governor DeSantis activates Florida National Guard in response to possible protests

There is also the issue of increased incarceration and the associated costs.

Recently released analysis shows that, if passed, the law would lead to more inmates in county jails and the state system.

The House Subcommittee is discussing the bill right now, and could make changes before the Senate takes up the bill, which is expected to pass.

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Since the bill’s inception, it hasn’t sat well with two local faith leaders in Orlando.

Pastor Morris with Carter Tabernacle said their coalition against the bill is growing.

“We’re getting ready to turn our focus to police chiefs, to say to them look do you really want Tally to determine what your budget is going to be?” Morris said.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Sheriff John Mina is happy to sit down with faith leaders to hear their thoughts.

“Sheriff Mina has strong ties to the faith community here, and is always amenable to sitting down with them to discuss any concerns, or talk about how to strengthen our alliances,” the department said in a statement.