By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill that would increase penalties for those who participate in riots passed out of committee on Tuesday with several changes.
House Bill 445 is sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, a retired Birmingham assistant police chief, who said the changes to the bill did not alter his intended goal of stopping violent protests.
“What I’ve maintained all along is that it protects lives, it protects citizens, protects law enforcement officers and it protects those protesting peacefully,” Treadaway said.
This bill was created in reaction to the summer protests in Birmingham and across the nation in response to the killing of George Floyd.
The changes were made after conversations with various concerned lawmakers like Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who said they were worried the bill would hurt people’s rights to protest.
“I want to make sure that the word and what we know as a riot is the conduct that we are attempting to criminalize versus just the ability for people to express their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble,” England said.
An amendment was approved which changes the definition of a riot to “the assemblage of five or more persons resulting in conduct which creates an immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons.”
This new definition takes out any mention of protestors obstructing law enforcement or other government functions. Treadaway said obstructing governmental functions is punishable by state law.
The substitute bill also says that if a person receives an order to disperse or is in violation of a curfew, the person is intentionally participating in a riot.
The new bill also changed the original 48-hour mandatory hold period for someone arrested for assaulting a first responder, participating in a riot or blocking traffic. It’s now an 24-hour hold.
The new bill also stipulates that if a municipality decides to reduce its law enforcement budget by more than 50%, it may not be eligible to receive grants, gifts or any other sum of money from the state. This does not apply if the agency employs 20 officers or less, which Treadaway says is most agencies in Alabama.
The bill passed with Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma and England voting against it.