Kentucky’s Senate introduced a new bill that would make it a criminal offense to insult or verbally provoke a police officer.
According to CBS News, Senate Bill 211 mandates up to three months’ imprisonment, a fine of $250, and disqualification of public assistance benefits to those convicted of insulting, taunting, or “challenging” a police officer with provocative words, gestures, or physical contact that would “have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.”
Supporters of the bill see it as a response to the riots that spread across the country last summer, including in Louisville, which was the center of protests following the death of Breonna Taylor. The bill is intended to target protestors who “cross the line” and commit unlawful acts that may turn a protest into a riot.
Republican Senator David Carroll, lead sponsor of the bill and retired police officer, told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “This is not about lawful protest in any way, shape, form or fashion. This country was built on lawful protest, and it’s something that we must maintain — our citizens’ right to do so. What this deals with are those who cross the line and commit criminal acts.”
The bill also contains a provision that pushes back on the “defund the police” movement, stating that government entities that fund law enforcement must “maintain and improve their respective financial support.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate after being passed by the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee in a 7-3 vote. After, it will move to the House to be voted on. Both chambers of Kentucky’s legislature are controlled by Republicans.
Opposition to the bill, headed by Democrat David Yates and the ACLU, argue that it violates First Amendment rights and will be used to quash protests.
The ACLU of Kentucky tweeted, “SB211 is an extreme bill to stifle dissent,” and “criminalizes free speech.”
Yates dismissed the bill, telling the Louisville Courier-Journal, “I don’t believe that any of my good officers are going to be provoked to a violent response because somebody does a ‘yo mama’ joke, or whatnot.”
In response, Carroll said that police have to be able to react to disrespectful behavior to prevent riots from escalating.
“In these riots, you see people getting up in officers’ faces, yelling in their ears, doing everything they can to provoke a violent response,” Carroll said. “I’m not saying the officers do that, but there has to be a provision within that statute to allow officers to react to that. Because that does nothing but incite those around that vicinity and it furthers and escalates the riotous behavior.”