RALEIGH — At the beginning of the 2023-34 long session, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) reintroduced his bill that increases penalties for rioting and damage caused by individuals during civil unrest.
Last week, House Bill 40, titled “Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder,” passed both chambers mostly down partisan lines but there was some Democratic support.
”We simply must do a better job of protecting the public and our business owners and supporting our law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe. I am thankful that both the House and Senate have now approved this commonsense bill,” Moore said in a press release following the senate’s passage of the bill. “Particularly in light of the rampant increase in crime in our state and across the nation, I urge Governor Cooper to sign this commonsense bill into law without delay.”
The bill passed the Senate 27-16. Sen. Mary Wills Bode (D-Wake), who was endorsed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in the 2022 election cycle, was the only Democrat to vote yes.
The House passed the measure 75-43 with six Democrats voting in favor that included Cecil Brockman (Guilford), Laura Budd (Mecklenburg), Abe Jones (Wake), Garland Pierce (Scotland), Shelly Willingham (Edgecombe), and Michael Wray (Northampton).
Last fall, Republicans picked up a supermajority in the Senate with 30 of the 50 seats in that chamber. Republicans in the House garnered 71 out of 120 seats, but just shy of the needed 72 (60%) for a supermajority.
If the six House Democrats stand by their votes should the governor veto the bill, it would give the House the numbers for a successful veto override.
Even with some small changes, House Bill 40 is nearly identical to House Bill 805 which Moore introduced in 2021. The 2021 bill was passed by both chambers; however, Cooper vetoed the measure.
“People who commit crimes during riots and all other times should be prosecuted and our laws provide for that, but this legislation is unnecessary and is intended to intimidate and deter people from exercising their constitutional rights to peacefully protest,” wrote Cooper in his veto message of House Bill 805.
Moore responded to Cooper’s veto in a statement recalling watching rioters cause “enormous damage to downtown Raleigh while the Governor did nothing” and that Cooper’s veto was “another slap in the face to the small business owners and residents of cities and towns across this state that were damaged by lawless riots.”
During 2020, riots related to the death of George Floyd were costly and resulted in widespread property damage, arson, and looting in cities like Raleigh, Charlotte, and Fayetteville.
The Associated Press reported $2.2 million was spent by law enforcement to cover the protests and nightly rioting. The activation of the North Carolina National Guard members was reported as costing $725,000.
Other law enforcement agencies like the State Highway Patrol spent over $300,000 and the Raleigh Police Department spent over $1.4 million. Additionally, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office spent $400,000, while the State Capitol Police spent just over $48,000.
House Bill 40 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.”
Penalties listed in the bill for engaging in a riot range from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class D felony.
Persons willfully engaging in a riot resulting in property damage of $2,500 or more, or serious bodily injury, moves from a Class H felony to a Class F felony. The penalty for inciting a riot will shift from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class A1 misdemeanor.
A new penalty makes it a Class E felony for persons willfully engaging in a riot if a death occurs during or because of the riot. The bill creates a new Class D felony for willfully inciting a riot which is a contributing cause of a riot that results in a death.
The bill also includes a provision where an injured party or person with injury to property can sue the violator for three times the actual damages sustained as well as court and attorney fees. The bill also makes it a Class H felony to brandish a dangerous weapon or substance during the course of a riot.