Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that makes it illegal to protest or picket outside a person’s home and gives police the authority to arrest violators who don’t disperse after a warning.
“Sending unruly mobs to private residences, like we have seen with the angry crowds in front of the homes of Supreme Court justices, is inappropriate,” DeSantis said in a statement. “This bill will provide protection to those living in residential communities, and I am glad to sign it into law.”
In his statement, DeSantis was referencing protests earlier this month outside the Washington, DC-area homes of US Supreme Court justices ahead of a highly anticipated ruling on an abortion-related case. Republicans have criticized the demonstrations as an attempt to bully the court to uphold Roe v. Wade after a leaked draft ruling suggested the court was poised to overturn the landmark decision.
However, the bill that DeSantis signed was unrelated to the recent controversy, as it passed the state legislature in early March. The bill had bipartisan support in the Florida Senate, where it advanced to DeSantis’ desk after a 28-3 vote.
State Sen. Keith Perry, the Republican lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said the legislation was inspired by prior instances of protesters gathering near the homes of both liberal and conservative figures. One example he cited was the harassment of a Broward County school board member outside her home in opposition to school masking requirements. The school board member, Jennifer D. Jenkins, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that the protesters heckled her kids, coughed in her face while shouting, “Give her Covid,” and burned an obscenity into her lawn with weed killer.
A bill analysis also referenced protests outside the Florida homes of US Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and the parents of murder suspect Brian Laundrie, as well as incidents outside the state, like the demonstrators who showed up at the residences of the Chicago and Portland mayors and a home owned by the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd.
“Some of us signed up for all of this, but our spouses, children and neighbors do not,” Perry said during a state Senate committee hearing in January. He added: “There should be a difference between a public space and your dwelling.”
Under the new law, police must first give a warning to protesters who violate the law and may arrest them if they do not “immediately and peaceably disperse.” A person arrested for violating the new law can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.
In a statement, Francesca Menes, co-founder of the social justice organization The Black Collective, said the bill signed by DeSantis “builds on the unconstitutional foundations of the anti-protest bill last year and only reaffirms our will to make sure our voices are heard in order to create a brighter future for the people of our state.”
DeSantis last year championed what he called an “anti-riot” law in response to civil unrest after Floyd’s murder. The law could allow police to arrest anyone participating in a protest that turns violent. A judge halted enforcement of the law, calling it “vague and overbroad” and an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment.
“The right to peaceful protest is a bedrock American principle that should never be undermined,” Menes said. “That’s not the case here in Florida, where we have seen legislation the last two sessions undermining this vital right and attacking the Black communities that have relied on it to bring about meaningful change for generations.”