Dems, Media, And Activists Are Freaking Out Over A Host Of GOP ‘Anti Protest’ Bills. But How Do Their Claims Measure Up To Reality?

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Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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Several states have passed what many media outlets, Democrats and progressive organizations are calling “anti-protest” laws they claim are waging a war on Americans’ right to protest.

The New York Times reported that Republicans are introducing and supporting a “wave of new anti-protest legislation.”

“G.O.P. lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session,” the Times reported, based on data provided by senior legal adviser Elly Page from the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, an organization that tracks anti-protest legislation.

The Daily Caller took an in-depth look at two of the most scrutinized pieces of legislation highlighted in the Times’ reporting to see if there was credence to some of the hysteria.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB1, also known as the “Combating Public Disorder Act,” into law on April 19. In the days following, Democrats, media outlets, and progressive organizations offered strong rebukes of the governor’s actions.

“Florida Adopts Nation’s Toughest Restrictions On Protests,” a headline from NPR said. “Florida Criminalizes Mass Protests Ahead of Chauvin Verdict,” another headline, from Rolling Stone, read.

DeSantis, “the Republican, and close Trump ally, also made it plain that the true legislative intent was to criminalizing the protest tactics of those he denounced as ‘the radical left,’” Rolling Stone’s piece read. 

Florida’s new law enables certain action to be taken against municipal governments who cave to the “defund the police” movement promulgated by activists. If a municipal government’s tentative budget proposes a reduction in funding for law enforcement agencies, the law allows “the state attorney for the judicial circuit in which the municipality is located, or a member of the governing body who objects to the funding reduction” to contest the move to defund the police to the Administration Commission “within 30 days after the day the tentative budget is posted to the official website of the municipality.”

The municipal government will be able to submit a response to the petitioner’s argument, and “the Executive Office of the Governor shall provide for a budget hearing at which the matters presented in the petition and the reply shall be considered,” the act’s text says.

The law goes on to say, “a report of the findings and recommendations of the Executive Office of the Governor thereon shall be promptly submitted to the Administration Commission, which, within 30 days, shall approve the action of the governing body of the municipality or amend or modify the budget as to each separate item within the operating budget of the municipal law enforcement agency. The budget as approved, amended, or modified by the Administration Commission shall be final.”

The law also subjects municipalities to more liability from damages that come from an improper government response to riots and mass looting. 

“A municipality has a duty to allow the municipal law enforcement agency to respond appropriately to protect persons and property during a riot or an unlawful assembly based on the availability of adequate equipment to its municipal law enforcement officers and relevant state and federal laws,” the legislation states.

“If the governing body of a municipality or a person authorized by the governing body of the municipality breaches that duty, the municipality is civilly liable for any damages including damages arising from personal injury, wrongful death, or property damages proximately caused by the municipality’s breach of duty.” In these cases, the law removes the imposed cap on the amount of monetary exposure the municipal government faces in other circumstances, which is at maximum, $200,000 or $300,000.

Much of the media’s ire has focused on provisions regarding protestors blocking roadways. Under the new law, MSNBC claimed, “If protesters block a road, Florida drivers who plow into them, claiming self-defense, now have civil liability protection.”

However, nothing in the law explicitly states a driver is entitled to “civil liability protection” if they hit a protestor committing a pedestrian violation and claim self defense.

John Scarola, Vice President-Secretary of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, is an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases in Florida, and told the Daily Caller that the law change does not mean the driver would have the level of liability protection the media would have people believe. “In a civil suit, the pedestrian violation would be evidence of negligence on the part of the injured victim, potentially increasing the victim’s percentage of comparative fault and proportionately decreasing the victim’s compensatory damage recovery,” Scarola told the Caller.

Furthermore, Scarola added, there is criminal liability “Florida drivers who plow” into protestors could be exposed to if they commit such an act. Characterizations similar to that of MSNBC’s with regards to these provisions of the bill are “misleading at best,” Scarola told the Caller.

In this section, the law predominantly tweaks code already on the books regarding demonstrations that “willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway, or road” and could result in a “pedestrian violation.”

The law also states, “This subsection does not prohibit a local governmental entity from issuing a special event permit as authorized by law,” and violators of these provisions “shall be cited for a pedestrian violation.”

Oklahoma’s new law, HB 1674, has similar provisions when it comes to protestors blocking roadways. The law was introduced after an incident during a protest in Tulsa where a pickup truck driver ran through a crowd of demonstrators gathering on a road after members of the group surrounded and started harassing the vehicle, Oklahoma State Sen. Rob Standridge, one of the authors, claimed. The incident resulted in several people getting injured, including someone who was paralyzed from the waist down. “The kids cowered in the back seat because they feared for their lives,” Standridge stated, Daily News reported.

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt also signed HB 1643 with HB 1674, which, like Florida, criminalizes doxing police officers in an attempt to harass or threaten their safety.

The ACLU of Oklahoma released a statement condemning the new laws, saying “trampling the rights and liberties of Oklahomans in favor of those with the most power and access, themselves included.”

“Oklahoma House passes bill to protect drivers who hit protesters,” a headline from The Oklahoman read. “New legislation would protect drivers who hit protestors,” the Associated Press’ headline said.

HB 1674 amends 21 O.S. 2011, Section 1312 of Oklahoma’s state laws to carry a misdemeanor charge if someone “unlawfully obstruct the normal use of any public street, highway or road.” It also says a driver will not be held criminally or civilly liable for unintentionally causing the injury or death to someone, but only as long as the driver was “fleeing from a riot… under a reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary to protect the motor vehicle operator from serious injury or death” and “exercised due care” while attempting to flee.

Some outlets have pointed to provisions in the new Florida law aimed at discouraging and preventing the destruction of historical sites in Florida. A piece published by Artnet News carried the headline, “Florida Just Made It a Felony to Damage Confederate Monuments as Part of Its Controversial New ‘Public Disorder’ Law.”

The bill does not single out the protection of confederate monuments or memorials. In the law’s non-exhaustive list of memorials, it includes the “Florida Women’s Hall of Fame,” “Florida Holocaust Memorial,” and “Florida Slavery Memorial,” among others.

The act says that someone who causes damage to such historical properties that “is greater than $200, commits a felony of the third degree,” and those who “willfully and maliciously pull down a memorial or historic property, unless authorized by the owner of the memorial or historic property… commits a felony of the second degree.”

Crimes “committed by a person acting in furtherance of a riot or an aggravated riot” are also punished more severely under the new Florida law. For instance, in some circumstances, “a person who assaults another person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree,” but, “a person who assaults another person in furtherance of a riot or an aggravated riot … commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.” The same can be said for aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, burglary and other crimes.

It also stipulates that someone who commits battery against a law enforcement officer while rioting will serve “a minimum term of imprisonment of 6 months.”

Furthermore, the new Florida law takes a strong stance against mob intimidation, like the kind America has seen at restaurants and other venues throughout the country in the past year where rioters intimidate non involved persons into saying or doing certain things.

The law makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for someone working in coordination with two or more individuals to use force or threats “to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will.” It also stipulates that it is a first-degree misdemeanor to dox someone online in order to threaten them or incite crimes against them. (RELATED: Woke Liberals, Minnesota Locals Give Wildly Different Answers On Riots)