MONTGOMERY — A bill that would change the definition of riot in state law and increase penalties for those who participate in one has been pre-filed for the 2022 regular legislative session.
House Bill 2 from Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, is similar to one that passed out of the House in the 2021 regular legislative session but didn’t have enough time to pass the Senate. Black lawmakers in both chambers expressed anger over what they said was legislation suppressing the right of people of color to gather in protest.
Treadaway, a retired Birmingham assistant police chief, told Alabama Daily News he hopes pre-filing the bill now will allow for more discussion from concerned parties.
“I hope that they look at the bill and see that my bill doesn’t have monuments in it, it doesn’t have anything in it about infringing on First Amendment rights, it’s just about the safety of everybody involved and that includes protesters,” Treadaway said.
The bill passed the House roughly along party lines earlier this year. Alabama’s Democratic party leader Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said that, while he appreciates the desire to collaborate on the bill, he still has concerns.
“I still think that there is significant potential there for it to infringe on someone’s right of freedom of expression and free speech and simply put, it could have a very chilling effect on someone’s right to protest,” England told ADN. “It still has a lot of work to be done.”
The bill was created after Treadaway’s experience witnessing last summer’s protests in reaction to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Treadaway said people from out of town came and planted incendiary devices around Birmingham.
The current bill defines a riot as “the assemblage of five or more persons resulting in conduct which creates an immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons.”
The new definition takes out any mention of protestors obstructing law enforcement or other government functions, which was in the original bill he filed in the 2021 session. Treadaway said obstructing governmental functions is already punishable by state law.
The bill also says a person commits the crime of rioting if “after receiving an order to disperse by a law enforcement officer or when in violation of a curfew, the person intentionally participates in a riot.”
Treadaway said the change in definition for the crime of rioting was made after discussions with Democratic members who were concerned about protestors who may be arrested even if they were just protesting peacefully.
“They were very concerned that folks would get caught up in a more peaceful type situation and someone in the crowd went through and breaks something or did something prior to any curfews being in place or lawful orders to disperse were in place,” Treadaway said.
Rioting is a class A misdemeanor in the bill and holds the punishment of a minimum 30-day jail sentence without parole. Any cost for medical treatments, damage to property or any other cost sustained because of the rioting also has to be paid.
The bill also requires a mandatory 24-hour hold without bail for anyone who is arrested for rioting, blocking traffic or assaulting a first responder, which is changed from the original bill’s 48-hour hold.
The bill also defines the crime of “inciting to riot” as a person who “commands, solicits, incites, funds, urges, or otherwise aids and abets another person to engage in a riot or aggravated riot.”
Other states have also passed their own version of an “anti-riot” bill this year, with some taking more extreme measures than Treadaway’s bill is doing.
Florida passed a bill this year that would give legal immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking the road and creates a new crime of “aggravated rioting” which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a new crime of “mob intimidation.” The measure also protects confederate monuments along with other memorials, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, 34 other states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session.
The 2022 regular legislative session begins Jan. 11.