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Information in an article in the Arizona Capitol Times has revealed that the Arizona State Senate has voted to move forward with a bill that will give police new powers, including being able to arrest and seize the assets of people who are involved in a protest that may turn violent. What has made many question this bill is the notion that, if passed in the House, it would give police the power to arrest people while a protest is still peaceful. Peaceful protests are currently protected as a 1st amendment right under the clause of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
The new bill, SB1142, is aimed at expanding the state's racketeering laws which target organized crime. Democrat and Republican members of the state senate went back and forth debating the bill. Republican members like Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, claimed that the bill is aimed at what he said are professional protesters. Kavanagh said, “You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder. A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists, but this stuff is all planned."
In an attempt to defend the language in the bill that proposes the seizure of assets from protest participants and organizers, Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen of Snowflake stated, “If they get thrown in jail, somebody pays to get them out,’’ she said. “There has to be something to deter them from that.’’
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, argued that these new laws could be targeting the wrong people, making it possible for people from opposing sides to cause peaceful protesters to be arrested and charged for things they didn't do. He said, "the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side." He continued by warning Republicans that this bill could negatively impact them (Republicans) and those they support as well. The example Farley used was if Tea Party protesters want to protest a local tax hike by obtaining permits and having a peaceful demonstration. - “And one person, possibly from the other side, starts breaking the windows of a car,’’ Farley said.- “And all of a sudden the organizers of that march, the local Tea Party, are going to be under indictment from the county attorney in the county that raised those property taxes,’’ he said. “That will have a chilling effect on anybody, right or left, who wants to protest something the government has done.’’
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said, "the purpose of this bill appears to be designed to chill the First Amendment rights of people to decide to demonstrate in the first place for fear something could wrong." That is where this bill becomes problematic.
What seems to cause the most confusion when people hear about this new bill is that it seems to make an attempt to charge people with a crime before any crime has been committed. It seems to preemptively cast a criminal net over an entire group of people, in the hopes of possibly catching someone who might want to do harm. The current laws allow police to arrest individual protesters who are being violent or destructive during protests. They can be charged with any number of crimes from destruction of property to assault. The new bill seems to allow police to arrest anyone involved in the protest that led to criminal acts that did or might happen, whether they themselves committed the crime or not. This has caused many to assert that this bill could (and would) impede or intimidate peaceful protesters from demonstrating their constitutional rights, even in a lawful manner.
The Arizona State Senate voted 17-13 to send SB1142 to the House.