On Thursday, North Carolina lawmakers approved stricter penalties for individuals participating in riots for the second time in three years. The move is a response to the violent protests that occurred in 2020 after the death of George Floyd.
House Bill 40 has been passed and is now awaiting the signature of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who had previously vetoed a similar bill passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2021.
The aim of House Bill 40 is to safeguard the rights of peaceful protesters under the First Amendment while ensuring their safety, as well as that of law enforcement and property owners, during any potential riot.
Last month, six House Democrats, including one of the bill’s chief sponsors, voted in favor of the measure. On Thursday, the bill was passed in the Senate with a vote of 27-16, with only one Democrat, first-term Senator Mary Wills Bode, voting in favor of the bill.
House Speaker Tim Moore has been a vocal supporter of the bill since its inception, citing the need for stronger laws to prevent riots and looting. Moore called on Democratic Governor Roy Cooper to sign the bill into law without delay, emphasizing that it was a commonsense measure to protect the safety and rights of peaceful protesters, law enforcement, and property owners.
NC Speaker Tim Moore presents H.B. 40, “Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder,” which Gov. Cooper vetoed last year, with Rep. Shelly Willingham standing behind him in support.
— Alex Baltzegar (@AlexBaltzegar) March 7, 2023
The Associated Press reports that social justice and civil rights advocates have criticized the measures, arguing that they aim to intimidate marginalized groups, including Black Lives Matter demonstrators, from peacefully protesting.
During a Senate floor session on Thursday, Republican Senator Danny Britt from Robeson County stated that the bill is solely aimed at violent actors who cause chaos and not those who demonstrate peacefully. Social justice and civil rights advocates have opposed the measures, saying that they intimidate marginalized groups, including Black Lives Matter protesters, and discourage them from engaging in peaceful protests.
Critics of the bill argue that the language used in the proposed law is too general and that law that address rioting already exist. Democratic Senator Natalie Murdock from Durham County has stated that the bill reinforces the punitive system responsible for the mass incarceration that the country is still grappling with today. Additionally, she believes the bill will hinder free speech, discourage protests, and undermine First Amendment rights.