March 19 (UPI) — Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday announced that he would allow a bill to become law that would increase penalties for people convicted of rioting in North Carolina without his signature.
The state’s legislature, controlled by Republicans, had previously proposed a similar bill last year in response to widespread protests after the death of George Floyd in 2020 — which was vetoed by the Democratic governor.
However, the state’s legislature has become increasingly more Republican and would likely override the governor’s veto if he were to do so again.
Cooper acknowledged in a statement that lawmakers made changes from the previous iteration of the proposed law but questioned the necessity of even passing the bill.
“I acknowledge that changes were made to modify this legislation’s effect after my veto of a similar bill last year,” Cooper said.
“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 legislation would add a number of penalties to the state’s penal code, including: making it a felony if a person who participated in a riot is found guilty of property damage more than $2,500 or seriously bodily injury, or causes a person’s death.
“Any person who willfully incites or urges another to engage in a riot, and such inciting or urging causes a death, shall be guilty of a Class D felony,” the legislation reads.
The legislation will also allow those injured by rioters or whose property was damaged by rioters the ability to sue for “three times the actual damages sustained” as well as court costs and attorney fees.
Lawmakers also added the North Carolina National Guard to its definition of “emergency personnel” under existing statutes that make it a felony to assault such emergency workers.
The legislation also adds a section specifying the conditions for a pretrial release for those who arrested during an alleged riot, stating that defendants accused of rioting must wait 24 hours before the conditions of their release can be set by a judge.
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, said in a statement that he was “pleased” that the bill would “finally become a law,” touting the legislation as bipartisan despite just six House Democrats and one Democratic state senator voting in support of the measure in February.
“While the First Amendment guarantees the right to peacefully protest, those who hijack otherwise peaceful demonstrations to cause chaos and destruction in our communities must be held accountable, and law enforcement must have our support to do just that,” Moore said.
“This bill has had bipartisan support since it was first introduced, and our communities will be safer now that this bill will finally become law.”