Rioters beware: NC bill pushing harsher punishments for violent agitators awaits gov signature

For the second time in three years, North Carolina lawmakers have approved further severe punishments for rioters, prompted by the violent protests in 2020 following the death of George Floyd. The bill is now awaiting the governor’s signature.

House Bill 40 has now made its way to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. He previously vetoed a similar bill that was passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly in 2021. This time, however, following the last election, Republicans have gained enough seats to override another veto as long as one House Democrat joins them and the GOP majorities remain united, according to Fox News.

The legislation seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of peaceful protestors while keeping them, police, and property owners safe from violent agitators during a riot.

In February, six House Democrats, including a chief sponsor of the bill, voted in support of the measure. On Thursday, Senate lawmakers passed the bill with a 27-16 vote. One Democrat voted for it… first-term Sen. Mary Wills Bode joined Republicans in supporting the legislation.

House Speaker Tim Moore has supported and pushed the bill both times it has come up for a vote. He pointed out that current laws did not deter rioting and looting in downtown Raleigh in June 2020. Thursday, he urged the governor to sign the “commonsense bill into law without delay.”

The bill is opposed by social justice and civil rights advocates according to the Associated Press. They are claiming that the bill targets Black Lives Matter demonstrators and other so-called marginalized groups by attempting to scare them into not taking to the streets peacefully.

Republican Sen. Danny Britt proclaimed on the floor of the Senate Thursday that the bill only takes aim at “violent actors” who cause mayhem, and not peaceful demonstrators.

Others opposing the legislation are claiming that the language is too broad and that there are already laws on the books addressing rioting.

Debate on the bill was contentious.

(Video Credit: WRAL)

Sen. Natalie Murdock went woke on the bill, contending that it “doubles down on the punitive system that created the scars of mass incarceration that we’re still dealing with today.” She charged that it will “stifle free speech, criminalize protest and erode our First Amendment freedoms.”

A spokesman for the governor, Jordan Monaghan, commented that Cooper “has worked to increase public safety and protect constitutional rights, and he will review this legislation.”

When the governor vetoed the bill in 2021, he declared that it was “unnecessary” and said it was “intended to intimidate and deter people from exercising their constitutional rights to peacefully protest.”

“The new bill would increase punishments already in place for crimes of [those] willfully participating in a riot or inciting one to cover more severe circumstances — possibly resulting in sentences that last a couple more years or longer. They would include if a rioter brandishes a weapon or causes serious bodily injury,” the Associated Press reported.

If a rioter causes the death of an individual or someone incites rioting that contributes to a person’s death, they would be subject to further punishment under the new bill.

Property owners who see damages caused by rioting would be allowed to seek compensation against a perpetrator equal to three times the monetary damages under the new bill. This could potentially supplement insurance that doesn’t fully cover any damage that occurs.

Those accused of rioting or looting would be forced to wait for 24 hours before their bond and pretrial release rules are set under the bill, which is intended to impose a “cooling-off period” for those being held.

So far, nine states have passed similar legislation in the wake of the 2020 riots, according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law. North Carolina is one of several states currently considering harsher penalties for rioters.

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