FRANKFORT — The Senate passed a bill Thursday evening to enhance penalties for crimes related to rioting after more than an hour of heated debate, including criticism that it would criminalize insulting police officers and chill protected free speech.
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, a retired police officer, said his Senate Bill 211 would crack down on and send a message to those who “tried to destroy the city of Louisville” in the civil unrest last year.
In addition to raising punishments on crimes related to rioting and prohibiting early release on such offenses, SB 211 would make it a crime to provoke an officer verbally to the point it could provoke a violent response.
Though Carroll said “insulting an officer is not going to cause anyone to go to jail,” his bill states a person is guilty of disorderly conduct — a Class B misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 90 days’ imprisonment — if he or she “accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words, or by gestures or other physical contact, that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.”
The bill passed by a 22-11 vote, with six Republicans joining Democrats to vote ‘no.’
Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat who represents a majority-Black district in west Louisville, said he was insulted by Carroll’s bill, which he viewed as a direct attack on his constituents who protest for and demand racial justice.
“This is another hammer on my district,” Neal said. “This is a backhand slap. And I resent it. I personally resent it.”
An angered Neal twice said “how dare you,” calling the bill “beneath this body. It’s unwise. It’s provocative. It’s unnecessary. It’s unreasonable.”
Neal added he was “befuddled” by the legislation, as laws are already on the books to deal with violent rioters, saying it could harm efforts toward the city to coming together and healing after the tumultuous months of protests kicked off by the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Carroll stood by his bill amid the criticism by Neal and other Democrats, saying the legislature would take the steps necessary to protect police officers and property in Louisville that Mayor Greg Fischer failed to take last year.
“The silent majority in this state supports this legislation,” Carroll said. “They are as troubled by what has happened in this country, by what happened in Louisville, as I am. I will not apologize for this bill.”
According to a Courier Journal review of data, Louisville Metro Police recorded 871 protest-related arrests — including 252 with at least one felony charge — between May 29 and Sept. 28. Black people made up 53% of the total arrests and 69% of arrests with a felony.
Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, said the passage of a bill like SB 211 could overshadow the goodwill and positive racial justice work of the session to advance legislation banning certain no-knock warrants, giving subpoena power to Louisville’s police civilian review board and creating a new TIF district in west Louisville.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, criticized the section criminalizing taunting police, noting those arrested on such a charge must be held in jail for at least 48 hours — a penalty that does not automatically extend to those arrested on murder, rape and arson in Kentucky.
“This bill shatters what we’re working toward healing,” McGarvey said. “This furthers the divide and it puts us legally down a road where I cannot believe this body wants us to go.”
Several of the Republican members to vote against the bill — including Sen. Julie Raque Adams of Louisville — explained their opposition to the mandatory 48-hour holds and the provision on insulting or taunting police, hoping the House sends back an amended bill striking those sections.
Reach reporter Joe Sonka at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @joesonka. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today at the top of this page.
Source: USA Today – Breaking News