PHOENIX (AP) – The full Arizona Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that makes participating in or helping organize a protest that turns into a riot an offense that could lead to criminal racketeering charges, legislation Republican backers say is needed to crack down on violent protesters.
The measure adds rioting to the organized crime statutes and says an overt act isn’t needed to prove conspiracy to riot, meaning someone could be charged who wasn’t involved in the actual riot.
All 17 Senate Republicans supported the measure and all 13 Democrats voted no. It now heads to the House.
Senate Bill 1142 would allow prosecutors to seize a person’s assets in addition to enhanced criminal charges. Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, has said his bill is needed to deter violent riots and go after groups paying protesters. Opponents said it is so broadly written that it could ensnare innocent people and chill free speech rights.
Democrats said there is no evidence that current laws against rioting, property destruction and assault are ineffective. Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, also said it undoes work in the Legislature this year to reform the criminal justice system that leads to over-criminalization.
“This goes in opposite direction,” Quezada said.
Quezada and other Democrats said the measure will having a chilling effect on free speech rights by adding new crimes under racketeering laws commonly called RICO statutes.
“This is a total perversion of the RICO process, the racketeering process, and I see major Constitutional issues down the line,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. “I don’t think this is going to do anything but get us into more lawsuits.”
Republicans pointed to violent riots that broke out last month in Washington D.C. among peaceful demonstrations after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, and violent protests in Berkeley, California, against a prominent right-wing speaker who backs Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos. They alleged the violence in some cases was the result of paid agitators.
“I have been heartsick at what is going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. “And there’s a difference between a protest and a riot. And what we have been watching is riots.”
Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, chastised Republicans, calling it “fake news that people are being paid to riot.”
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.