By CAROLINE BECK, Daily News from Alabama
MONTGOMERY, Alabama – A bill that would change the definition of riot in state law and increase penalties for those who participate in it has been pre-tabled for the 2022 regular legislative session.
House Bill 2 by Representative Allen Treadaway R-Morris is the same bill that was passed by the House in the 2021 Ordinary Legislative Session but did not have enough time to pass by the Senate. Black lawmakers in both chambers have expressed anger at what they said is legislation removing the right of people of color to rally in protest.
Treadaway, a retired Birmingham Deputy Police Chief, told the Alabama Daily News that he hopes pre-tabling the bill now allows for a more in-depth discussion by all parties concerned.
“I hope they take a look at the bill and see that my bill does not contain monuments, it does not contain anything about the violation of First Amendment rights, it is just about the safety of all people involved and that includes the protesters, ”Treadaway said.
The bill passed through the House roughly party-wise earlier this year, and Alabama Democratic Party Leader Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, has said he appreciates the desire to work together on the bill but still had concerns.
“I still think there is significant potential for this to infringe on someone’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression and, put simply, it could have a very chilling effect on the law. for someone to demonstrate, ”England told DNA. “He still has a lot of work to do. “
The bill was created after the experience of Treadaway attending protests last summer in reaction to the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Treadaway said people from out of town came and planted incendiary devices around Birmingham.
The current bill defines a riot as “the gathering of five or more persons resulting in behavior which creates an immediate danger of property damage or personal injury”.
The new definition removes any mention of protesters obstructing law enforcement or other government functions, which was in the original bill he introduced in the 2021 session. Treadaway said that obstruction of government functions is already punishable by state law.
The bill also states that a person commits the crime of rioting if “after being ordered to disperse from a law enforcement officer or in violation of a curfew, the person participates intentionally to a riot “.
Treadaway said the change in the definition of riot crime was made after discussions with Democratic members concerned that protesters could be arrested even if they were only protesting peacefully.
“They were very concerned that people would end up in a more peaceful type of situation and that someone in the crowd would break something or do something before curfews were in place or legal dispersal orders were issued. are in place, ”Treadaway said.
Riots are a Class A misdemeanor in the bill and carry a jail term of at least 30 days without parole. Any costs for medical treatment, property damage, or any other costs incurred as a result of the riots must also be paid.
The bill also requires a mandatory 24-hour hold without bond for anyone arrested for rioting, blocking traffic or assaulting a first responder, which is amended from the 48-hour hold in Bill d. ‘origin.
The bill also defines the crime of “incitement to riot” as a person who “commands, solicits, incites, funds, urges or aids and encourages another person to engage in a riot or aggravated riot” .
Other states have also passed their own version of a “riot” bill this year, with some taking more extreme measures than Treadaway’s bill.
Florida passed a bill this year that would grant legal immunity to people crossing roadblocking protesters and create a new felony of “aggravated riot” punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a new crime of “mob intimidation”. “The measure also protects Confederate monuments as well as other memorials, according to Orlando Sentinel.
According to the International Center for Nonprofit Law, 34 other states introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session.
The 2022 ordinary legislative session begins on January 11.