By Peyton Majors
Christian Action League
February 10, 2023
A bill that increases the penalties for rioters and allows property owners to sue for damages sailed through the North Carolina House of Representatives Wednesday with enough voters to overcome a potential veto.
The Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder Act, H.B. 40, passed by a vote of 75-43 and now heads to the North Carolina Senate. Voting for it were 69 Republicans and six Democrats. All the “no” votes came from Democrats.
The bill changes the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony if the rioter caused property damage in excess of $2,500. H.B. 40 also allows property owners to sue the violator/rioter for damages that are equal to three times the actual damages sustained. Further, it allows the property owner to recover court costs and attorneys’ fees.
The bill allows a judge to keep the violator/rioter in custody up to 24 hours without releasing him or her.
“They need to spend some time in jail prior to their release as a cooling-off period as a deterrent and also for public safety, which are valid concerns,” Speaker Tim Moore said. Speaker Moore is champion for the measure.
The bill defines a riot as a “public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, results in injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property.”
It includes language protecting individuals who are present for a riot but do not damage property.
“Mere presence alone without an overt act is not sufficient to sustain a conviction pursuant to this section,” the bill says.
Melissa Price Kromm of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections said legislators were “silencing” protesters. She opposed the bill and called it “un-American.”
“States with robust protest activity should have one priority — listening to their constituents,” Kromm said. “… As many rights have come under attack, many people see protests as the only way they can be heard.”
Moore said he supported peaceful protests.
“What we found was, our current laws that are in place were not sufficiently strong enough, to guarantee that those who engaged in the most violent and destructive behavior, would ever see the inside of a jail cell,” Moore said. “I thought that was unacceptable. I would submit to you that most North Carolinians would find that unacceptable.”
The bill, he said, is “not about whether you are left or right or anything.”
Rep. Charles Miller, a Republican who has served as a sheriff, said the bill is “not about taking away peaceful protest.”
“It’s about protecting the property and protecting the law enforcement officers and first responders that don’t have a choice” of protecting lives and property, Miller said.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League said that the League supports HB 40. He said:
“What we have witnessed on the streets of our great state, as well as around the country, is nothing less than pure untamed lawlessness. Some want to call it protests. People certainly have a right to public protests. It’s a part of our American DNA. It’s guaranteed by our Constitution. Nevertheless, there is no constitutional right to burning down buildings, smashing windows, defacing monuments, breaking and entering, assault and other forms of violence. No one has the right to hijack some legitimate concern, whether its racial anger and tensions, or some injustice perpetrated by some rogue police officer, as an excuse to defy law and order in society. To act in this manner is a perversion of the rights of every North Carolinian, every American, to lodge a protest and to peacefully assemble. In light of what we have recently experienced, Speaker Moore’s legislation is most reasonable. It ought to receive enthusiastic support.”