The Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder bill would make rioting a felony if it resulted in over $2,500 worth of property damage, involved dangerous weapons or substances, or resulted in someone’s death. It would also make assaulting a police officer or emergency personnel a felony.
The previous version of the bill was met with strong opposition from Democrats and social justice advocates, who called it racist and intended to muzzle the exercise of First Amendment rights.
Cooper’s statement in a press release shows that he begrudgingly let it become law.
“I acknowledge that changes were made to modify this legislation’s effect after my veto of a similar bill last year,” he said. “Property damage and violence are already illegal and my continuing concerns about the erosion of the First Amendment and the disparate impacts on communities of color will prevent me from signing this legislation.”
All Republicans voted in favor of the bill. In contrast, 16 out of 17 Democratic senators voted against the bill—the sole Democratic senator who supported H.B. 40 was Sen. Mary Wills Bode, D-Granville.
In the state House, one of the lead sponsors of the bill is Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe. Willingham, a former law enforcement officer, supported the bill despite opposition from most in his party.
Legislators have renewed their push for the bill this year because of millions of dollars in property damage in Raleigh and across North Carolina during 2020 protests after the death of George Floyd.
“Nearly three years after violent protests devastated communities and businesses in North Carolina, I am pleased that this bipartisan legislation will finally become law,” said House Speaker Tim Moore in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
“While the First Amendment guarantees the right to peacefully protest, those who hijack otherwise peaceful demonstrations to cause chaos and destruction in our communities must be held accountable, and law enforcement must have our support to do just that. This bill has had bipartisan support since it was first introduced, and our communities will be safer now that this bill will finally become law,” said Moore.
Cooper also had mixed feelings about the Hotel Safety bill and explained his reasoning for not signing it.
“This bill was given broad support in the legislature and there are potential positive modifications being discussed by legislators,” he remarked. “However, safe housing is sometimes only available from temporary shelter such as hotels, and I remain concerned that this bill will legalize unfair treatment for those who need protection, and this will prevent me from signing it.”
Cooper vetoed similar legislation in 2021. This go around, the House voted 83-29 for the legislation, and it passed in the Senate last month by a 28-16 vote.
S.B. 53 states that landlord-tenant rules, which make it more difficult to remove an occupant, don’t apply when a person is staying at a hotel, motel, or RV park for fewer than 90 consecutive days.
The rules normally apply for home and apartment renters, sometimes requiring legal action to complete evictions. The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association also supported the measure.
Alex Baltzegar contributed to this article.