Lawmakers could crack down on ‘pop-up’ events

During the early months of the pandemic, pop-up events were very popular.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By Jim Turner
News Service of Florida

Authorities would be able to impound vehicles for days and double fines on noncriminal traffic infractions to crack down on large unsanctioned events put together through social media, under a measure heading to the Senate floor.

Bill sponsor Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, said the proposal (SB 1954) wouldn’t apply to protests but is designed to help manage “out of control” social media “pop-up” events. The Senate Rules Committee approved the bill last Tuesday.

“With the internet being so popular, we are having people put together events that are unsanctioned and saying basically, ‘Come to this area, and let’s party like it’s 1999,’ ” Wright said. “And our law enforcement’s hands are tied to do much about it.”

The proposal would allow authorities to declare areas as “special event zones” in response to unpermitted events that are promoted through social media and are anticipated to attract 200 or more people and disrupt traffic. The zones could blanket entire cities.

The bill would double fines for non-criminal traffic infractions in the event zones and allow law enforcement to impound vehicles for up to 72 hours for traffic violations.

The proposal also would allow local governments to impose more stringent regulations than what’s in state law about vehicle radios or other sound-making devices.

The proposal is backed by the Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida and is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, called the bill “crazily overly broad, wildly disruptive.”

“If you cross a lane without putting your blinker on, you get fined, it’s doubled. And we can impound your car, which seems a little bit intense,” Brandes said.

A legislative staff analysis said local governments would be able to recover from promoters or organizers relevant costs and fees tied to special event zones, from law enforcement to sanitation, even if the events are canceled.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, questioned the impact to spring break if people are faced with arrests and cars being impounded.

But Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who supported the bill, said the measure could help local governments when “these things happen out of control.”

“Anything that would eliminate chaos in a party state is helpful,” Baxley said.

Wright said the proposal grew out of a truck meet last year in Daytona Beach that created gridlock on Florida A1A.

“Pop-up events are happening where someone goes online and says, ‘Come to a particular area and bring your dirt bikes, bring your jacked-up trucks, bring some sort of vehicle and break all kinds of laws and stop traffic, start fights,’” Wright said.

He added that people in Daytona Beach were “shooting each other from truck to truck. They were going across yards, tearing up yards with their big tires. They were going onto the beach putting sand on people that were there sunbathing.”

A similar measure (HB 1435) by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, has cleared two panels and awaits an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. 


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