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Bipartisan bill targets anti-Semitic incidents by making them felonies

Rep. Randy Fine holds a yarmulke while speaking at a press conference in Tallahassee on Thursday.
Rep. Mike Caruso's office
Via Facebook
Rep. Randy Fine holds a yarmulke while speaking at a press conference in Tallahassee on Thursday.

State lawmakers of both parties are pushing a bill to counter the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in Florida.

"Enough is enough, said Rep. Mike Caruso. The Delray Beach Republican filed the bill last week. He said that legislators need to act.

"If we don't do something now," Caruso said Thursday at a Tallahassee press conference, "then soon we might have 1933 Nazi Germany here all over again."

The legislative session convenes March 7.

The bill — House Bill 269 — would raise offenses from a misdemeanor to a third degree felony to litter a yard with a flier, harass people, disrupt schools or religious services, deface graves and certain buildings, or project images on someone else's property -- if the act shows ethnic or religious animus.

The bill explicitly references vandalism that manifests anti-Semitism and the use of Nazi symbols.

The particulars of the bill address increasingly common anti-Semitic fliers that are distributed in neighborhoods, as well as racist graffiti and vandalism, and anti-Semitic messages projected onto buildings.

As for the littering offense, the bill first makes it a first degree misdeanor to create litter with a pamphlet, flier or other material. In the current statute, littering in small amounts is not a criminal infraction.

Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine said holding Nazi views is not illegal. But, he said, "it is illegal to trespass. It is illegal to litter. It is illegal to assault people. And we need to say that, when your stupid Nazism moves from words to action, we're going to hold you accountable."

Fine said the bill is "a reaction to the explosion of anti-Semitic incidents we've seen in Florida over the last six-plus months. I mean they've gone from rare to monthly to weekly to daily, and people are scared."

Three Democratic lawmakers have also signed on a co-sponsors.

The Anti-Defamation League says the groups responsible for the anti-Jewish incidents also target LGBTQ and transgender people.

A couple of bills by Democrats -- such as Senate Bill 276 by Palm Beach County Sen. Lori Berman -- would make that gender-based and gender identity-based prejudice also criteria for a hate crime.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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