Committee slows controversial bill increasing penalties for rioters

Updated: Mar. 9, 2021 at 12:41 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama House Judiciary Committee has slowed down a controversial bill that would create new crimes and penalties for rioters.

The bill was moved to a subcommittee to work out concerns Democratic lawmakers expressed at the meeting Tuesday.

State Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, said he drafted the legislation after a riot in Birmingham last summer when people came from other cities to cause destruction.

“You’ve got other evidence of folks with sledgehammers breaking in businesses, looting them and setting them on fire,” Treadaway said. “This is what this is about.”

The bill would allow law enforcement to hold people who participate in a riot in jail for a longer period of time before becoming eligible for bail. Treadaway said it would stop people from immediately joining riots after bonding out of jail.

“I think it’s necessary to save lives and protect peaceful protests, especially in the city of Birmingham,” Treadaway said. “Law enforcement is under attack. They are not paid to sit there and take bricks.”

Protesters lined up outside the Alabama State House to speak out against the bill. Several also spoke out during the bill’s public hearing.

Satura Dudley, the executive director for Cell A65, said she was arrested for peacefully protesting in Birmingham during the summer of 2020.

“You’re making protesting illegal,” Dudley said during the public hearing. “This bill will target Black protesters and leaders and attempt to justify making us disposable.”

Several Democratic lawmakers said during the committee that the bill puts people in jeopardy who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said the definition of riot in the bill is too broad and is “loaded” with unintended consequences.

“This legislation almost weaponizes law enforcement to suppress protected free speech,” England said. “One guilty person may be arrested but hundreds of innocent people end up being incarcerated, only for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

England said there needs to be a “critical” conversation about the relationship between law enforcement and people of color. He presented a motion to put the bill in a subcommittee to hash out the differences.

Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, supports the bill but backed England’s recommendation to put the bill in a subcommittee saying “I think we need to slow it down a little bit.”

Rep. David Faulkner, R-Birmingham, said he believes the bill sponsor’s intention is to allow for peaceful protests.

“I too support the First Amendment. And I too support peaceful protests no matter what the cause. I believe that’s your intent of this bill,” Faulkner said.

Committee Chair Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, said he wants the bill back in the House Judiciary committee March 17.

Portions of the legislation include:

  • A person who is arrested for knowingly participating in a riot would be placed on a 24-hour hold before becoming eligible for bail, and, upon conviction, would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail and an order of restitution. [Note: The 24-hour hold requirement in this and other sections will require passage of an accompanying constitutional amendment.]
  • A person who knowingly participates in the new crime of “Aggravated Riot,” which requires bodily or property damage to result, would also be held for 24 hours before becoming eligible for bail, and, upon conviction of the Class C felony, would face a mandatory minimum sentence of six months and an order of restitution.
  • Those convicted of Riot, Aggravated Riot, or Inciting a Riot would become ineligible to hold public office in Alabama.
  • The crime of Assault Against a First Responder in the first and second degrees are created and those arrested for the offenses are initially held for 24 hours before becoming bail-eligible. A First Degree conviction, which would be a Class B felony, results in at least one year in jail, a $15,000 fine, and an order of restitution, and a Second Degree conviction, classified as a Class C felony, carries a minimum six-month jail sentence, a $5,000 fine, and a restitution requirement.
  • Any government entity in Alabama that defunds a local law enforcement agency would lose eligibility for any state funding, grants, revenues, or other forms of aid. In addition, any entity that defunds a law enforcement agency would become civilly-liable for any violent crime that result from the action.
  • The crime of purposely blocking an Interstate would become a felony with accompanying fines and incarceration.

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