NC House approves controversial anti-riot bill with enough votes to override a veto

Travis Long/

The North Carolina House approved legislation Wednesday that would implement stricter criminal penalties for rioting, sending the controversial bill that critics have called “racist” to the Senate.

House Bill 40 was approved 75-43 in a mostly party-line vote, but with at least five House Democrats voting in favor of the bill, with members of the Legislative Black Caucus among them.

Rep. Shelly Willingham, a primary sponsor of the legislation, and Rep. Michael Wray, both of whom voted for a previous iteration of the bill in August 2021 that was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, voted in favor of it again. Reps. Abe Jones, Garland Pierce and Cecil Brockman also voted in favor of the bill.

With support from those Democrats, the bill passed by a large enough margin to override a veto from Cooper, if he were to block the bill again. Moore said bill sponsors had worked to address concerns from Democrats, and that he hoped Cooper would not oppose it.

The bill, which would increase felony penalties for certain existing rioting charges, is similar to the earlier bill that Moore introduced in response to some of the violence and rioting that occurred during 2020 protests against police brutality in downtown Raleigh.

During House floor debate on the bill Wednesday, Moore reiterated that he respected the constitutional rights of people to protest, but said that violent behavior that results in property damage or injury to others needed to be strongly punished.

Critics have said they are concerned the bill’s enhanced penalties will be disproportionately applied to people of color, and have accused its supporters of wanting to silence protests for racial justice and other causes. Moore and other sponsors including Willingham, who is Black, have vehemently rejected that notion, saying that the law applies to everyone equally.

Moore pointed to supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol and destroyed property, to emphasize that in both the cases of the Jan. 6 attack, as well as violence that occurred during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, violent conduct should be punished, regardless of who was committing it.

“This is not about whether you are left or right or anything,” Moore said on the House floor, adding that people of all political leanings could engage in violence.

But opponents of the bill remained unconvinced, saying they were alarmed by how quickly House leaders were moving the bill through committees.

“This bill is designed to harm and limit the voices of Black, brown and marginalized people,” Dawn Blagrove, the executive director of Emancipate NC, told lawmakers on Wednesday.

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