INDIANAPOLIS — A bill that would increase the penalties for rioting and obstructing traffic if either leads to serious injury or causes serious property damage passed out of committee this week and will be considered by the full Indiana Senate.
Under current Indiana law, rioting is a misdemeanor. The proposal from State Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, would raise it to a felony.
"Amid protests that turned to violent riots last summer in Indianapolis, two Hoosiers were tragically and senselessly killed the evening of May 30, whether it was from the actions of rioters or because law enforcement had to focus their efforts on the rioters," Young said. "It was disappointing and frustrating to me and many others to see our beautiful capital city destroyed that night."
Young said it is his responsibility to ensure that type of violence does not happen again.
The bill also gives the Indiana attorney general the ability to prosecute people for rioting.
The ACLU of Indiana said the legislation is an attack on the right to protest.
"Indiana legislators are launching a full-on attack on Hoosiers' right to protest in what is clearly a backlash against the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred across the state of Indiana last summer," Katie Blair, public policy and advocacy director with the ACLU of Indiana, said. "SB 198 is unconstitutional and would chill Hoosiers' free speech by enhancing criminal penalties and discouraging release on bail for charges during what the law broadly defines as an 'unlawful assembly.' SB 198 is not an 'anti-riot' bill; SB 198 is an anti-First Amendment bill."
Young disputed the characterization by the ACLU.
"The ACLU's claim that this bill is unconstitutional is false. Americans who protest peacefully will continue to have the right to have their voices heard loud and clear by their elected officials," Young said. "What I will not tolerate is people who disrupt peaceful protests, distracting from what protestors have to say. More importantly, I cannot tolerate people destroying businesses and property and harming other people."