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Florida Legislature passes ‘anti-riot’ bill

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Florida Gov Ron DeSantis

The GOP-controlled Florida Senate on Thursday passed a controversial “anti-riot” bill, sending it to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who began advocating for the bill last year following the unrest that hit many U.S. cities last summer over the deaths of Black people at the hands of police.

The legislation—H.B. 1—would strengthen and create new penalties for crimes committed during a “riot” or violent protest. It would also punish local governments that interfere with law enforcement’s efforts to control riots and establish a citizen’s appeal process when cities and counties attempt to reduce police budgets in response to riots.

This measure was passed the same week as a new wave of Black Lives Matter protests have hit a Minneapolis suburb after a recent high-profile killing of a Black man, Daunte Wright, by police. These protests have seen some violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement, as well as destruction of property.

RELATED: Over 60 arrested during second night of riots in Minnesota

While the bill’s supporters have argued this bill is about “law and order,” opponents have charged that H.B. 1 restricts the freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly and that it’s meant to attack the Black Lives Matter movement, something which H.B. 1 supporters have denied.

“Can I tell you that this bill is not about racism? Not entirely, I can’t know,” said GOP Senator Ed Hooper, according to CBS News. “But I do believe in my heart that, at the end of the day, we are a nation and a country of law and order.”

Opposing H.B. 1, the American Civil Liberties Union said the legislation would give police broad discretion over what’s deemed a protest and a riot, per CBS News.

“The bill was purposely designed to embolden the disparate police treatment we have seen over and over again directed towards Black and brown people who are exercising their constitutional right to protest,” said Micah Kubic, the executive director of ACLU of Florida, according to CBS News.

The bill passed 23-17, mostly along party lines after more than two hours of heated debate. Only one Republican senator, Jeffrey Brandes, voted against it.

After the bill’s final passage Thursday evening, DeSantis said he looked forward to signing the bill. According to NBC News, he is expected to do so as early as next week.

“This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble, while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished,” the governor said in a statement. “Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @DouglasPBraff.

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BREAKING: Trump ordered to pay over $350M, barred from operating his business in NY in civil fraud case ruling

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Former President Donald Trump and his business empire faced a significant setback as a New York judge ruled against them in a civil fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The 92-page ruling, handed down by Judge Arthur Engoron, barred Trump from operating his business in New York for three years and imposed over $350 million in damages.

The case, which unfolded over months of trial proceedings, stemmed from allegations that Trump inflated his assets and engaged in fraudulent practices. Engoron’s ruling cited a litany of charges, including persistent fraud, falsifying records, issuing false financial statements, and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Moreover, the judge imposed restrictions on key figures within the Trump Organization, including Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, barring them from serving in certain corporate roles in New York for a specified period.

Engoron’s scathing assessment of Trump’s testimony during the trial further undermined the former president’s credibility. The judge criticized Trump for evasive responses and irrelevant digressions, highlighting the detrimental effect on his credibility.

In response to the ruling, Trump’s attorney, Christopher Kise, lambasted the court’s decision, alleging political bias and a disregard for established legal principles. Kise argued that the evidence presented during the trial failed to support the allegations of fraud and emphasized Trump’s substantial net worth.

Kise’s assertions were echoed by Alina Habba, another attorney representing Trump, who denounced the verdict as a “manifest injustice” resulting from a politically motivated witch hunt.

Throughout the proceedings, Trump consistently dismissed the trial as politically motivated, accusing both Engoron and James of partisan bias. His legal team also criticized the absence of a jury in the trial, questioning the fairness of the proceedings.

Attorney General Letitia James, who spearheaded the lawsuit against Trump and his organization, portrayed the ruling as a victory for accountability and transparency in business practices. The lawsuit alleged fraudulent conduct and sought substantial financial penalties, a portion of which would contribute to the state treasury.

The fallout from the case extends beyond Trump and his business interests, with implications for the broader business community and the rule of law. The contentious nature of the trial and its outcome underscored deep divisions and raised questions about the integrity of the legal system.

Trump vows to appeal the decision.

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