CS/HB 1 (Fernandez-Barquin) and SB 484 (Burgess) are aimed at curbing riots and violent protests. Of specific interest to municipalities are provisions that make it difficult to reduce municipal law enforcement funding, in certain cases waive the sovereign immunity of cities for damages arising from riots, and provisions that create specific law enforcement actions when responding to riots.
The legislation creates a process for the state attorney or member of the governing body of a city to file a petition to the Administration Commission (comprised of the governor and Cabinet) within 30 days after the municipality posts its tentative budget if the budget contains a funding reduction to the operating budget of the municipal law enforcement agency. The governing body of the municipality has five working days to file a reply with the Executive Office of the governor and must deliver a copy of the reply to the petitioner. After receiving the petition, the Executive Office of the governor must provide for a budget hearing to discuss the petition and the reply. The Administration Commission then has 30 days to provide a report of findings and approve or modify the municipal budget. The report by the Commission is final.
The bills also create civil liability for damages caused during a riot. A governing body or a person authorized by the governing body that breaches the duty to respond appropriately to protect persons and properties during a riot based on the availability of adequate equipment and applicable laws is civilly liable for any damages arising from the riot. The bills waive sovereign immunity for any governing body found liable, which means cities would not be protected by statutory caps that normally limit the amount someone can recover when suing a government entity.
The bills require law enforcement officers to hold individuals committing crimes related to riots in jail until their first appearance. Law enforcement cannot simply give tickets to anyone cited for crimes related to riots. Lastly, the legislation increases criminal penalties for actions relating to violent protests or riots. CS/HB 1 passed the House (76-39) and the Senate (23-17) and is awaiting action by the governor. (Hughes)