A bill moving through Kentucky's Senate would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer during a riot. Supporters say the bill targets people who unlawfully "cross the line" but opponents call it a blatant attempt to crush protests and a violation of First Amendment rights.
Senate Bill 211 mandates up to three months' imprisonment for a person who "accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words," or makes "gestures or other physical contact that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person."
A person convicted of this misdemeanor charge could also face a $250 fine and be disqualified from public assistance benefits for three months.
The bill also has a provision pushing back on the "defund the police" movement, stating that government entities that fund law enforcement agencies must "maintain and improve their respective financial support."
The bill advanced through the Senate's Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection committee on Thursday in a 7-3 vote, with only Republicans supporting it. It now moves to the full Senate and could be passed there as early as next week, and would then need to be passed in the House. Republicans control both chambers of Kentucky's legislature.
CBS News requested comments from Republican Sen. David Carroll, the bill's lead sponsor, and from Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat.
Carroll told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the bill is a response to riots that broke out in many cities across the country last summer. Louisville was an epicenter for racial justice protests due to the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed in March 2020 during a raid of her home by Louisville police officers.
"This country was built on lawful protest, and it's something that we must maintain — our citizens' right to do so," Carroll, a retired police officer, told the Courier-Journal. "What this deals with are those who cross the line and commit criminal acts."
The ACLU of Kentucky called the legislation "an extreme bill to stifle dissent" and said it would criminalize free speech.