Florida Judge Allows Case Against Governor Ron DeSantis’ Racist HB 1 To Proceed
HB 1 criminalizes protests or dissenting voices that counter the conservative agenda of the DeSantis Administration.
I f you care about racial justice, you need to be paying attention to Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, and the evolving case around HB 1.
Last week, 5 Florida cities fought off DeSantis’ attempt to end their suit challenging HB 1—a racist, anti-protest law that also restricts local governments’ ability to reform law enforcement budgets, ie. ‘defund the police’ and funnel resources back into social services.
In a ruling by Leon County circuit judge J. Lee Marsh, the court found the case could proceed because the cities of Gainesville, Lauderhill, Miramar, Tallahassee, and Wilton Manors sufficiently illustrated the sweeping harms of HB 1.
“HB 1 stifles democracy and it has stopped needed reforms in its tracks,” said Public Rights Project Chief Program Officer Jonathan Miller. “That type of harsh and real-world impact is precisely what the Governor and Legislature intended.”
// A Brief History
In April 2021, the Florida legislature enacted the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act (HB 1) as an explicit response to the Black-led protests around George Floyd’s murder and the rallying cry against police brutality.
In addition to prohibiting any cuts to police budgets, HB 1 criminalizes protests and forces municipalities to crack down on public dissent—or risk huge financial penalties threatening essential community services.
HB 1 also strips individuals of victim compensation should they be harmed during a protest by police and terminates state employee benefits should protestors be found participating in “disorderly assembly.”
HB 1 systematically targets and represses any ideas and movements that run counter to the will of the DeSantis Administration, threatening the community—particularly people of color—with criminal records and financial fallout should they speak out.
HB 1 is part of a growing trend of abusive preemption across the country, a political tool that takes power and authority from local governments to regulate community-driven policies and stifles much-needed reforms.
A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute found that the “use of preemption in the South is deeply intertwined with a long history of events and actions that have reinforced anti-Black racism and white supremacy.”
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DeSantis rolled out HB 1 amid nationwide protests last year that called attention to racial disparities in policing.
The Florida Constitution enshrines the rights of cities and municipalities to practice local control, also known as “home rule.” This right to self-govern at a local level is vital — local officials are closest to the people, and local governments make many of the decisions that impact our day-to-day lives.
“And so what we’re arguing here is, it is that right that has been infringed,” said Marissa Roy, staff attorney at Public Rights Project. Roy says local municipalities losing control of their budgetary process will “spell disastrous effects” for cities and their communities.
Local organizers The Black Collective have already felt the chilling effects of HB 1 and the deepening of Black subjugation which has plagued the state for decades.
“HB1 targets Black protestors and their allies who demand racial justice and has already slowed protest activity among Black organizers in Florida.”
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“The ruling of Judge Marsh shows the soundness of our case,” said Paul Chavez, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The First Amendment protects dissent and protest and the government cannot punish an individual for exercising their constitutional rights. We look forward to our full case getting a hearing as soon as possible.”