Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill Friday that would have increased the penalties for demonstrators who engage in violent protests, calling the legislation unnecessary.
Cooper’s veto happened after a federal judge ruled Thursday that Florida’s anti-riot law is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.
Under North Carolina’s legislation, anyone who engaged in a riot would face felony charges if more than $1,500 in property damage happens or if people suffer serious injuries or death. The bill also would have provided punishments against offenders who assaulted emergency personnel such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses and members of N.C. National Guard.
The bill also would have allowed business owners to recover triple the amount of property damage or the cost of personal injuries caused by rioters and looters.
“People who commit crimes during riots and at other times should be prosecuted and our laws provide for that,” Cooper said in his veto message. “But this legislation is unnecessary and is intended to intimidate and deter people from exercising their constitutional rights to peacefully protest.”
Cooper’s statement is similar to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee, Fla., who determined that the Florida law is “vague and overbroad” and amounted to an assault on First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly as well as the U.S. Constitution’s due process protections.
Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, the bill’s primary sponsor, called Cooper’s veto of the rioting bill Friday a “slap in the face to the small business owners and residents of cities and towns across this state that were damaged by lawless riots.”
Moore said that Cooper was “pandering to the far left” by vetoing what he called a “common sense” bill.
Moore pushed the bill that was a legislative response to rioting and looting that took place in Raleigh last year amid frustration over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Moore and other Republicans said that the bill would have more forcefully held criminals accountable for their actions.
Critics said that the legislation would have targeted the Black Lives Matter movement and would have impeded the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly of state residents.
In the N.C. General Assembly, Republicans have majorities in both chambers but not the three-fifths supermajorities needed to override Cooper’s veto, unless they have support from some Democrats.
Last week, the N.C. Senate voted 25-19, and the N.C. House voted 88-25, to give final legislative approval of the bill that was sent it to Cooper.
Among Forsyth County’s legislators, Republican State Sen. Joyce Krawiec as well as State Reps. Donny Lambeth, Lee Zachary and Jeff Zenger voted for the bill, according to legislative records. Democratic State Sen. Paul Lowe and State Rep. Evelyn Terry voted against the bill.
Black Lives Matter-Winston-Salem, the N.C. NAACP, Emancipate North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Democracy North Carolina opposed the bill.
Chantal Stevens, the executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said Friday that Cooper’s veto of the bill was the right decision.
“This proposal was clearly retaliatory legislation in response to the public demands for racial justice we witnessed last year,” Stevens said in a statement. “Had this become law, it would have dissuaded people from engaging in constitutionally protected acts of protest and empowered law enforcement to target those who organize and frequently attend protests and demonstrations.”
The Associated Press and the News and Observer of Raleigh contributed to this story.