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Arizona protesters may face racketeering charges under new bill
February 23, 2017 / 9:14 PM / in 9 months

Arizona protesters may face racketeering charges under new bill

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona lawmakers have approved a bill that could make people who organise or take part in protests that turn violent subject to criminal charges and possible seizure of their assets.

High school students gather in front of the Arizona Capitol in protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as the president of the United States in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

Republicans in the Arizona senate who supported the measure said it was needed to help curb protests that have erupted nationwide and what some said were protestors paid to show up and incite trouble. Similar anti-protest legislation has been introduced in several other states.

The state Senate approved the bill 17-13 on Wednesday in a party line vote to expand the state’s criminal racketeering law to include rioting where damage of property occurs. It must still be approved by the Arizona House before going to Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican.

A Ducey spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Thursday. The governor commonly declines comment on pending legislation.

The push for stricter laws coincides with opponents of President Donald Trump vowing to take to the streets to demonstrate against his policies from immigration to abortion to climate change.

Opponents of the Arizona bill said it was unconstitutional and would serve to harm Arizona’s reputation nationally.

“Any criminal acts that could be committed during a protest are already exactly that – criminal,” state Senator Martin Quezada, Senate Democratic Whip, said in a statement on Thursday.

“This bill only serves to chill people’s rights to free speech by allowing one bad actor to turn peaceful demonstration organizers into racketeering felons,” he added.

The bill’s sponsor, state Senator Sonny Borrelli, told Reuters in an email that those being “paid to commit these criminal acts,” needed to be held accountable. The legislation said police could also level conspiracy charges against organizers of an event who were not present.

Democrats countered by questioning the claim that protestors were being paid to be violent, with one lawmaker calling it “fake news,” a term Trump has used when describing news reports he has disagreed with or called incorrect.

Reporting by David Schwartz, Editing by Ben Klayman and Grant McCool

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