North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has allowed a bill to become law without his signature. The legislation, House Bill 40, seeks to increase penalties for inciting or participating in a riot. The bill was presented to Cooper on March 10th, and he has declined to either sign or veto it.
In a statement, the governor explained that he had previously vetoed similar legislation and cited concerns about the broad language of the bill. However, the governor also acknowledged the need to address “the real problem of violent unrest” and called for a “careful, tailored approach.”
While House Bill 40 contains similar language to the previous legislation, some changes have been made to protect the right to participate in lawful protests. For instance, the new bill allows law enforcement to hold individuals accused of rioting for 24 hours before a judge makes a decision about pre-trial detention, instead of the 48-hour window in the previous bill.
Furthermore, House Bill 40 features sections mandating state law enforcement agencies to devise strategies for handling protests and participation and explicitly rejecting any interpretation of the legislation that would limit or restrict the exercise of First Amendment rights.
“I acknowledge that changes were made to modify this legislation’s effect after my veto of a similar bill last year,” said Gov. Cooper. “Property damage and violence are already illegal and my continuing concerns about the erosion of the First Amendment and the disparate impacts on communities of color will prevent me from signing this legislation.”
The bill, which has faced opposition from civil rights groups, would create new penalties for individuals who incite or participate in a riot. These penalties could include up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000. The legislation also includes provisions to hold rioters liable for damages and make it easier to charge those who aid and abet rioters.
Supporters of the bill argue that it is necessary to deter violent protests and protect public safety. Opponents, however, argue that the bill is overly broad and could be used to target peaceful protesters and suppress free speech.
The legislation is seen as a reaction to several protests that turned into riots in 2020. According to WRAL’s report that year, various demonstrations in the Tarheel State ended violently, with protesters and police clashing in Raleigh and Fayetteville and incidents of looting, fires and smashed windows.
In a statement, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-NC) expressed his satisfaction with the legislation saying, “Nearly three years after violent protests devastated communities and businesses in North Carolina, I am pleased that this bipartisan legislation will finally become law.”
— Speaker Tim Moore (@NCHouseSpeaker) March 17, 2023