A bill going through the Kentucky Senate would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer during a riot. Supporters say the bill targets people who “cross the line” illegally, but opponents call it a blatant attempt to crush protests and a violation of First Amendment rights.
Senate Bill 211 imposes a jail term of up to three months for someone who “accuses, insults, taunts or challenges a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisory words” or »Gestures or other physical contact which would have a direct tendency to elicit a violent response from the point of view of a reasonable and prudent person. “
A person convicted of this misdemeanor charge could also face a fine of $ 250 and be disqualified from public assistance benefits for three months.
The bill also contains a provision pushing back against the “defund the police” movement, stating that government entities that fund law enforcement agencies must “maintain and improve their respective financial support”.
The bill was brought forward by the Senate Veterans Affairs, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee on Thursday in a 7-3 vote, with only Republicans supporting it. It has now moved to the full Senate and could pass there as early as next week, and should then pass in the House. Republicans control both houses of the Kentucky Legislature.
CBS News has asked for comments from State Senator David Carroll, a retired Republican police officer who is the bill’s primary sponsor. Following the publication of this story, he wrote in an email: “After looking at your headline, I don’t think I have anything to say to you. I miss the time when we had unbiased reporters !!” [SIC]
CBS News has also contacted the staff of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat.
Carroll told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the bill was a response to riots that broke out in many cities across the country last summer. Louisville was an epicenter of protests for racial justice due to thea black woman killed in March 2020 during a raid on her home by Louisville police officers.
“This country was built on the basis of legal protests, and that’s something we have to uphold – the right of our citizens to do it,” Carroll told the Courier-Journal. “What it is about are those who cross the line and commit criminal acts.”
The Kentucky ACLU called the legislation “an extreme bill to stifle dissent” and said it would criminalize free speech.