Hashing Out HB1 with Rep. Alex Andrade
by Jeremy Morrison
There was some disagreement concerning the impacts of Florida’s recently passed and signed HB1 — the so-called protest, or riot law — touched upon in Inweekly’s May 13 ‘Bills, Bills, Bills” article. District 2 Rep. Alex Andrade and American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Director and Senior Policy Counsel Kara Gross were at odds about what impacts the new law might have on protest activities such as blocking a roadway, a tactic that was employed locally by protesters involved in racial justice protests in June 2020.
That disagreement, essentially centering around whether the protest act would result in a civil citation or a felony with a potential of 15 years in a prison due the newly minted legal landscape of HB1, continued after the article’s publication.
“Gross never read the bill. Blocking traffic isn’t an aggravated riot, it’s still a civil infraction,” Rep. Andrade texted. “It’s section 2 of the bill. They couldn’t even read the first few pages.”
Gross, in a text of her own, laid out the ACLU’s read on the new law: “Under the broad and confusingly worded bill, it seems that anyone who is thereby present at a protest that turns violent thru no fault of their own and happens to be forcefully, or by threat of force, standing firmly in the road thereby hindering the ability of a car to pass, could be arrested for agg [sic] battery and charged with up to 15 years in prison.”
This in-the-weeds point of contention is illustrative of the differing perspectives on HB1. Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature have described the bill as necessary to deal with protests that crosses the line into the newly created legal territory of ‘mob intimidation.’ Critics meanwhile — some of which have already filed legal challenges to the law — claim it’s an unnecessary, free-speech chilling and probably racist overreach by a state legislature taking national cues in a season heavy with racial justice protests.
To hash out the particulars of this aspect of HB1, Rep. Andrade back-and-forthed with Inweekly in a somewhat disjointed text-based interview, during which he laid out an at-times gymnastically-mindbending argument concerning protest-based road blocking: “Don’t threaten to damage someone’s car and it’s a civil infraction. Create all the human chains you want. Lol”
The following is Inweekly’s text-thread interview with Rep. Andrade concerning HB1’s impact on the protest tactic of blocking a roadway, as well as the new law’s added protections for drivers encountering such blockades — like the driver that drove across the Pensacola Bay bridge last June with a racial justice protester clinging to the hood of his vehicle.
INWEEKLY: Ok, yes, that’s [the ACLU’s] position, and, I think, I understand your position, but … wouldn’t creating a human chain across a roadway as a form of protest constitute blocking the roadway? Also, the portion of the law that offers protections to drivers encountering such a protest … why is that needed?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: Yeah, blocking the roadway, but not by threat of force or by force
INWEEKLY: Refusing to move?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: And blocking the roadway, as stated in the bill, is still just a pedestrian violation.
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: Refusing to move isn’t by force or threat of force
INWEEKLY: What would constitute?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: Force or threat of force?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: It equates to assault or battery
Threat of force = assault
Force = battery
Threatening to punch out someone’s window
Jumping on a car
Damaging someone’s side mirror
INWEEKLY: Would the on the car incident here have qualified?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: You want to form a passive human chain, you’re getting slapped with a civil infraction.
INWEEKLY: But isn’t protest, kinda by definition, not passive? At least this sort of act?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: I don’t know if they surrounded the guys car or not. My understanding from the police on scene was that the guy was placed in fear of his life/fear for his vehicle. I remember an officer saying if his wife or child were in the same situation, he’d have advised them to do the same thing, drive slowly and get out of there if possible
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: Protest is active, sure, but you can march , chant, passively block access to buildings, have a sit in, do literally anything you can imagine, so long as you don’t threat physical violence or commit actual violence
INWEEKLY: There’s video. It was kinda weird, but I’m not sure I’d classify it as necessarily dangerous (inconvenient, yes), but it did turn dangerous by the car deciding to drive through the protesters.)
INWEEKLY: Yeah, but if person/vehicle tries to pass a blocked building/road, and is not allowed, doesn’t that turn ‘physical’?
Sorry to hammer this, but it’s kinda the crux
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: I think its really fact dependent. But what isn’t fact dependent is the claim that simply blocking a road illegally will net someone 15 years in prison. That’s just not true
INWEEKLY: Ok. I think I understand. But, do you see where critics of the bill (ACLU, or whoever) argue that the potential for such is easily imaginable or even likely to occur? And that such potential would impact free speech (by effectively cause no protesters to not use tactics that could become interpreted as something more serious than intended or was previously the case under existing law?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: I don’t see illegally blocking traffic as a valid form of protest. It’s always been illegal, and committing a criminal act has never been recognized as protected speech under the first amendment.
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: The difference between now and the 60’s was that those laws on segregation were evil laws. Breaking a bad law that was targeting a specific group is a far cry from breaking a good law to make your point about something else.
INWEEKLY: Kinda a “good trouble “ thing?
Wouldn’t people protesting what they view as systemic racism within law enforcement as a just cause and worthy of “good trouble”?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: A law says black people can’t sit with white people in a diner, so protestors passively sat at a diner.
That’s a commendable form of passive resistance
Folks are angry at videos of unjustified police killings, the whole country denounces the killing. Folks gather in unity and protest it. That’s worthy of praise. Blocking the ability of someone in an ambulance to get to a hospital is just harming someone else for the sake of harming someone else.
INWEEKLY: And, really, connecting protest tactics to causes/issues is kinda dangerous, right? I mean, who gets to say what’s worth more aggressive protests?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: The 1st Amendment
INWEEKLY: Sure, blocking an ambulance would be dangerous
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: If it shouldn’t be illegal for folks to block traffic, let’s go remove that law off the books. But nobody is saying that
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: Blocking ambulances occurred ALOT last year
INWEEKLY: We’re people requesting the law/penalty be amped up?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: The penalty for blocking traffic wasn’t amped up
But yeah, if you create an unsafe traffic condition by force, you’ve committed more than a civil infraction.
INWEEKLY: Alright, that pretty much brings us full circle, and I think I understand your position. It’ll be interesting to see how legal challenges play out, and hopefully we can discuss again as that unfolds. Thanks.
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: Yeah, I don’t see the law being overturned based on the arguments I’ve seen. Nothing in the bill will ever be construed as targeting a protected class. I’d put money on it
The great thing about litigation is fact allegations are held to a standard of evidence that is nearly impossible to contravene.
INWEEKLY: Hmmm … ok, just to make it fun, I’ll bet you a beer, winner chooses local brewery?
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: Deal!
INWEEKLY: I’m getting thirsty!
REP. ALEX ANDRADE: Don’t hold your breath. But in a few months, whenever it gets decided in the lower court, I’ll definitely remember this conversation.
Jason Uphaus was arrested last July for jumping on the hood of Nathan Matusz’s SUV when he drove into a crowd of protestors at the foot of the Chappie James Bridge. Uphaus was charged with charged with disorderly conduct and criminal mischief.
In August 2020, the state attorney’s office dismissed the charges, saying the alleged victim refused to cooperate or even communicate with the prosecutors.
Uphaus’ attorney, Chris Klotz, had filed a Stand Your Ground that asserted Matusz had driven the SUV in a way that physically threatened the life and safety of the protesters. The motion came after news reports of protesters being intentionally targeted and run over by automobile drivers. Read more.