LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A bill which advanced out of a Senate Committee on Thursday would make it illegal to insult or taunt a law enforcement officer to the point where it could provoke a violent response.
Senate Bill 211 is sponsored by retired police officer, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, in response to the violence and vandalism both in Louisville last summer and on Capitol Hill earlier this year.
“This (bill) is not about lawful protest in any way, shape, form, or fashion,” Carroll said. “This country was built on lawful protest and it’s something we must maintain our citizens’ right to do so. What this deals with are those who cross the line and commit criminal acts,” he continued. “If you see the riots, you see people getting in these officers faces, yelling in their ears, doing anything they can to provoke a violent response,” Carroll said. "
According to Carroll, the bill’s goal is to protect first responders, the public and both public and private property.
“I think there is absolutely a need for this,” Carroll said. “The need crosses political lines, it crosses racial lines; it’s not aimed at any particular segment of this commonwealth, of any community.”
The bill passed 7 to 4 on Thursday, but not without some opposition. Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, told committee members the words in the bill are “dangerous” and would send the wrong message to the public. He added “good cops” have enough poise to keep their composure when they’re being insulted or yelled at.
“I think by us having that kind of language in here, it makes my stomach turn, because I don’t believe any of my good officers are going to provoke a violent response because someone does a ‘your mama’ joke or whatnot,” Yates said.
In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, or ACLU had concerns about how the bill would infringe on free speech rights.
“It’s a cornerstone of our democracy that people should be able to verbally challenge police actions, even if its offensive, even if it’s using words that people don’t like,” Corey Shapiro, legal director of the ALCU Kentucky said. “That’s a cornerstone of the First Amendment, and that’s why we’re here.”
In addition, Senate Bill 211 would discourage local governments from defunding their police departments, and would hold those who give protesters objects that can be used as weapons criminally responsible.
The bill will head to the full Senate for a vote. If it passes, it will then go to the House. However, this legislative session ends March 30.