FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Before they left for the veto break, Kentucky lawmakers got halfway through the process of passing a controversial bill. The bill - Senate Bill 211 - raises punishments for crimes related to rioting and forbids early jail release. It also makes it a crime if someone "accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges a law enforcement officer" with words, gestures, or physical contact that would "provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person."
The penalty for that would be up to 90 days in jail.
The bill is a response to the racial justice protests that took place in Louisville in 2020.
"We need to send a clear message to those outside this Commonwealth that the welcome mat is no longer there if you plan to come to our Commonwealth to terrorize our people, attack our police," said Sen. Danny Carroll while defending his bill on the Senate floor on March 11.
But critics of the bill say there are already laws that deal with violence and destruction, so they believe the bill is unnecessary. They think the bill will scare people out of protesting and silence their concerns.
"What this does is directly attack what some people don't like about the protests - that they're calling out the police officers, that they're demanding that police officers stop certain actions that are inappropriate and frankly, in many cases unconstitutional," said Corey Shapiro, the legal director for ACLU of Kentucky.
There are also concerns the bill is violating free speech, even if that speech may seem insulting to some.
"There are plenty of courts that have upheld an individual's first amendment right to swear at the police, to use offensive language at the police, to use the middle finger at the police, to use all sorts of offensive, insulting words - that is constitutionally protected speech," said Shapiro.
The bill passed out of the Kentucky Senate on a 22-11 vote. It has been sent to the House but has not been assigned to a committee yet. Given that it hasn't moved through the House yet and there are only two legislative days remaining, there is not enough time for this bill to become law in 2021.