The Arizona Senate voted Feb. 22 to approve a bill expanding state racketeering charges to include protests that turn into riots. The charge could be levied against those who actively incite violence and participants of protests.
Senate Bill 1142 would allow prosecutors to seize a person's assets in addition to filing enhanced criminal charges, according to The Associated Press. The bill would expand current laws against rioting to include instances when damage to personal property has occurred.
All 17 Senate Republicans voted to approve the bill, and all 13 Democrats opposed. It now heads to the State House of Representatives.
Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada of Phoenix acknowledged that peaceful protests can sometimes change tenor without the organizers' intent.
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"When people want to express themselves as a group during a time of turmoil, during a time of controversy, during a time of high emotions, that's exactly when people gather as a community," he told the Arizona Capitol Times. "Sometimes they yell, sometimes they scream, sometimes they do go too far."
Quezada also mentioned that everything that constitutes a riot in Arizona is already a crime. He argues that the bill is meant to suppress First Amendment rights through a fear that something could go wrong, according to the Capitol Times.
Republican Sen. John Kavanagh of Arizona said any suppression is aimed at a very specific group of protesters who he believes are paid to incite violence, according to the Capitol Times.
"Wouldn't you rather stop a riot before it starts?" Kavanagh asked colleagues during a debate. "Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?"
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Senate Democrats fear the reaction to this bill outweighs any positive effects. "This is a total perversion of the RICO process, the racketeering process, and I see major Constitutional issues down the line," said Democratic Sen. Steve Farley of Arizona to the AP. "I don't think this is going to do anything but get us into more lawsuits."