Some good news from the Arizona Legislature: SB 1142, the bill that would have allowed protest organizers to be prosecuted for racketeering if a demonstration turned violent, is effectively dead.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard has confirmed that he does not plan to consider the bill, which means that it won't move forward in the legislature.
“I haven’t studied the issue or the bill itself, but the simple reality is that it created a lot of consternation about what the bill was trying to do,” Mesnard told New Times. “People believed it was going to infringe on really fundamental rights. The best way to deal with that was to put it to bed."
SB 1142 was based on some questionable claims. Chief among them: The violence at recent protests in Washington, D.C., and Berkeley, California, was the work of paid protesters.
Although there’s no evidence suggesting that was the case, state Senator Sonny Borrelli, a Republican representing Lake Havasu City, said that his bill was necessary in order to crack down on the groups that are paying protesters.
He garnered support from state Senate Republicans, all of whom voted in favor of the bill, as well as law enforcement. Levi Bolton, the executive director of the Arizona Police Association, and Ken Crane, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, are both listed as supporters of the bill.
As New Times' Ray Stern pointed out last week, SB 1142 would have held protest organizers liable for any damage that occurred if a protest got violent — even if that damage was the work of an opposing group.
Rioting is already illegal, but the bill sought to add it to the list of offenses covered by the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization laws.
That would have given prosecutors the ability to seize protester organizers' property — putting liens on their homes, for instance.
When the bill passed the Senate last week, it sparked a national outcry, with many questioning whether or not it was even constitutional.
But Mesnard says that wasn’t what made him decide to kill the bill.
“I was less concerned about the national story,” he says. “My decision was based on what I think is best for Arizona and the concerns that were being expressed by Arizonans.”
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“I’m certain the sponsor wasn’t trying to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights,” he adds. “I want to stand up for him a little bit - he’s being criticized, and I don’t know if that’s entirely fair.”
The news that the bill won't have a hearing in the House is already being celebrated by Democrats and civil liberties groups.
"Thanks to everyone who spoke out against this terrible proposal!" the ACLU of Arizona wrote on Twitter. "Continue fighting for our civil liberties!"
Added the Arizona Democratic Party: "One bit of rational news. Now we're back to fighting other bad bills."