Bill To Expand Penalty For Blocking Roads During Riots Hits Road Block In Legislature
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A proposed bill cracking down on protestors who block traffic during a riot was heard in an online hearing by members of the Utah State Legislature on Tuesday.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, said the important point is to distinguish between a riot and a protest.
“We support the Constitution in peaceful assemblies,” said Hawkins.
However, when those gatherings turn into riots is where this bill would come into play, tightening the belt on demonstrators.
“When those assemblies become violent in nature, we want to make sure we are protecting the public,” Hawkins said.
The bill, which is just in the beginning stages, would expand the penalty for roadway obstruction during a riot.
As introduced, it could mean a third-degree felony and up to five years behind bars.
“We may bump it down to be a Class A misdemeanor based on the feedback we received on the committee this morning,” said Hawkins, who went on to say the penalty will likely be less severe “I think it will be six months in jail and a fine of some degree.”
Officials with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office opposed the bill, saying Utah already has existing laws in place with Class B misdemeanor penalties, but they are based on the notion of “tumultuous” conduct — which is ambiguous for both law enforcement and citizens.
“Let’s go back and revisit this broad language of tumultuous conduct and if the objective here is to balance those two competing interests would mean the citizens’ right and the First Amendment right to protest and when that line is crossed over with violent behavior,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
Overall Hawkins’ goal is to deter violent behavior and stop demonstrators who are arrested from immediately being released from behind bars.
“Allow time for them to cool down a little bit and time for the riot to subside and peace to be restored,” he said.
Since the proposed bill was not unanimous in the hearing Tuesday, it will receive another hearing during the legislative session. Hawkins said the hope is by then there will be more of a consensus on what this bill does and how it will be effective in Utah.
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