Jim Tomes

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, addressing questions about SB 36 during a Judiciary Committee meeting. Photo by Shayla Jones, TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — The Black Lives Matter movement took off over the summer after the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis who died in police custody. Many Hoosiers assembled in Indianapolis and other cities across the state during the summer to push for political change.

According to Time magazine, 93% of the protests across the nation were peaceful while 7% displayed their anger by shattering windows, vandalizing buildings and more. The protests in Indianapolis lasted for 14 continuous days during the summer.

Now, Sen. James Tomes, R-Wadesville, and Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, are promoting an 18-page bill that could impose steep punishments on protestors charged with rioting and police officers for negligence, including barring them from government jobs and some public assistance.

“For generations in America, we’ve seen protests and demonstrations that have sparked change, but the message can be lost as soon as violence begins to occur and citizens’ property is destroyed,” Tomes said in a statement.

However, the bill is drawing some controversy. The local BLM Indy 10 chapter posted about the bill on Twitter, saying, “Good morning to everyone except the authors of SB34, which will not go before Committee for a hearing. Rest in pieces to this awful bill.” A representative could not be reached for further comment.

Executive director of Indy Pride Chris Handberg also disagrees with the bill.

“Gay liberation protests all the way to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests—those were because people were being oppressed,” Handberg said.

Handberg said the protest last week on Capitol Hill seemed to be more about political opinion and not fighting to protect the core characteristics of who people are and that they can’t change. The LBTQ+ community wouldn’t be where it is today without protests, Handberg said.

“All throughout Black Lives Matter protests and even gay liberation protests, you never saw people trying to seize, kidnap and hold hostage lawmakers,” Handberg said.

Senate Bill 34 references the definition for rioting that is already part of Indiana law. The code states that rioting consists of a person who is aware and intentionally causes harm while protesting, which is a class A misdemeanor. If one is armed with a deadly weapon while protesting, then it is a level 6 felony.

Katie Blair, the advocacy and public policy director of the Indiana American Civil Liberties Union, is worried about what this bill may mean for Hoosiers.

“It chills free speech because no one is going to go out to a protest to let their voice be heard and speak out against the government if you think you could lose your job or your health care or your housing because of your engagement with that protest,” Blair said.

Blair described the bill as “completely unnecessary and harmful to the community.”

The bill removes protection for police officers under the Indiana Tort Claims Acts for failing to enforce the bill if it is made law. If an officer would fail to arrest a citizen for unlawful assembly, the officer would face a negligence charge.

The bill would prohibit a person from being released on bail without a hearing in an open court and also requires money for bail. Courts would be forced to consider how their bail requirements compare to local guidelines.

It would up the penalty for those charged with rioting, obstructing traffic, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

The bill would also prevent local governments from defunding police departments without reason, whether the community is seeing a decline in crime or tax revenue.

The killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others ignited a debate about defunding police departments around the country. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has included roughly $261 million for IMPD in his 2021 budget.

“Looting, firebombing and throwing objects at citizens are violent and destructive activities that will not lead to a solution,” Tomes said in a statement. “Hoosiers are entitled to go about their lives without being victims of the violence that goes along with riots. I believe this legislation will protect innocent Hoosier bystanders from dangerous activities while still allowing groups to lawfully protest.”

After the first reading on Jan. 4, the bill was referred to the committee on corrections and criminal law. Committee chairman Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, said he has decided the bill will not be put on the schedule to be heard and will die in committee.

“The reasoning behind my decision is between the authors of the bill and myself,” Young told News 8 in a statement.

There is not a hearing set for the bill.

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