North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday that he would not veto a piece of legislation that would increase penalties for rioters after blocking a similar bill in 2021.
The GOP-controlled legislature sent the bill to the governor’s office last Thursday after it passed by a bipartisan vote in the House and Senate. The Democratic governor had until Monday to sign or veto the bill, which was proposed following the 2020 nationwide riots following the death of George Floyd.
While Cooper said he would not veto the bill, he announced he would allow the legislation to become law without his signature, according to The Associated Press. The decision means that Cooper may delay an amendment to state legislatures as the legislature has become more Republican since his 2021 veto.
Cooper’s choice not to veto the bill irked social justice advocates who argue the measure limits the right to protest and freedom of expression, despite increasing penalties only for violent rioters and not peaceful protesters.
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North Carolina Democratic Governor Roy Cooper speaks to The Associated Press in a year-end interview at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, NC, December 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum, File)
In a press release, Cooper said “amendments have been made to alter the effect of this legislation” following the veto two years ago, but the governor said he was still concerned about the language.
“Property damage and violence are already illegal and my lingering concerns about the erosion of the First Amendment and the disparate impact on communities of color will deter me from signing this legislation,” he said.
In 2021, the state of Tar Heel had enough Democrats in the House and Senate to veto the first riot bill, but now the Republican-controlled Senate has the power to override a veto. The House needs just one Democrat vote to have the same advantage.
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North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore speaks before the Supreme Court in Washington, December 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Six House Democrats, including a lead sponsor of the bill, voted in favor of the measure in February. In the Senate last Thursday, lawmakers passed the bill by a vote of 27 to 16 — first-term Senator Mary Wills Bode was the only Democrat to vote in favor.
House Speaker Tim Moore made a strong case for this year’s bill, as well as the 2021 bill, citing the rioting and looting he witnessed in downtown Raleigh in June 2020. Moore said current laws are not enough of a deterrent to to protect the public and property .
“Those who hijack otherwise peaceful demonstrations to cause chaos and destruction in our communities must be held accountable,” Moore said after Cooper’s announcement on Friday. “Our communities will be safer now that this bill finally becomes law.”
The AP reported that nearly 30 groups wrote to the governor over the past week urging him to veto the measure, claiming it would intimidate people from speaking out in peaceful protests for fear of unwarranted arrests.
“Laws like these have often been used to attack peaceful protesters, especially minorities and those fighting against racial oppression,” said Sam Davis of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “We are disappointed that Governor Cooper chose not to veto this unnecessary and unconstitutional bill.”
Earlier this month, Moore and other supporters said the bill aims to protect the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters and protect them, law enforcement and property owners from violence during riots.
PROTESTS, riots that gripped the US in the POST-GEORGE FLOYD ERA
CMPD officers deploy a stun grenade at an end-to-police brutality demonstration in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, on June 2, 2020. (LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images)
The new bill, which takes effect in December, increases the penalties already in place for those who participate in or incite a riot to cover more serious circumstances, such as brandishing a weapon or causing serious bodily harm – potentially resulting in longer prison sentences.
New crimes will also be created for a rioter who caused death or someone who incites riots that contribute to a death, and attacks on aid workers will lead to increased penalties for crimes. The bill also allows property owners who suffer damage during protests to seek damages from a perpetrator equivalent to three times the monetary damages.
Finally, defendants charged with rioting or looting must wait 24 hours for their bail and provisional release rules to be determined.
Protesters throw tear gas back at police on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in downtown Raleigh, NC (Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
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Cooper said Friday that lawmakers are discussing positive changes to the bill, but he is still “concerned that this bill will legalize unfair treatment for those in need of protection.”
Nine states have passed similar laws since the devastating 2020 riots, according to the International Center for Non-Profit Law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.