MORRISVILLE, N.C. (2/8/2023) – Today the NC House passed HB 40, legislation aimed at criminalizing protest, stifling free speech, and discrediting First Amendment rights by imposing harsh criminal penalties on our state’s already vague and problematic “riot” laws.
After a rushed scheduling process, HB40 passed the House Judiciary 2 committee, rules, and House floor in short order. The bill passed the House with enough support to potentially override a veto from Gov. Cooper, who vetoed nearly identical legislation in the form of HB805 during the 2021 legislative session.
Those lobbying against the bill urged lawmakers to first and foremost oppose the bill, or in the absence of opposition, adopt amendments for the bill, including 1) removing the requirement to have a judge, instead of a magistrate, decide whether to release those who get arrested while protesting, leading to longer waits in jail, and 2) increasing the property damage amount needed to receive a felony charge from $1,500 to $5,000. The House adopted one amendment to increase the amount to $2,500 and shorten the wait time period to 24 hours.
“Regardless of the intent of this bill, HB 40 will disproportionately harm Black and brown North Carolinians due to the wide discretion being given to law enforcement and the over-policing that already exists in our communities. Black North Carolinians in 44 counties are currently three times more likely to be disenfranchised than their white counterparts,” said Carol Moreno Cifuentes, Policy and Program Manager at Democracy NC. “North Carolina’s current rioting law is similar to the federal anti-riot statute, which the 9th Circuit and 4th Circuit Court of Appeals have already ruled unconstitutional for being overly broad and vague. This bill also allows anybody who claims their property was damaged to sue those they believe responsible for up to three times the cost to repair damages. If a driver is near a protest, will they now be able to argue that someone standing nearby damaged their car? Finally, the bill will have a disparate impact in smaller rural counties where finding a judge to determine the pre-trial release will be more difficult, leading people to be held in jails that are at times already overcrowded. We ask lawmakers to oppose this bill in its entirety or to make amendments to aid in minimizing harm to our most disenfranchised communities.”
Democracy North Carolina is a statewide nonpartisan organization that uses research, organizing, and advocacy to strengthen democratic structures, build power among disenfranchised communities, and inspire confidence in a transformed political process that works for all. Learn more at democracync.org.