Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

If a bill introduced by House Republicans last week makes it through the legislature, unruly protestors in North Carolina can be charged with a crime and be deemed an “economic terrorist.”

Representative Kevin Corbin, who represents Macon County, and Representative Mike Clampitt, who represents Jackson County, joined 16 other Republican members of the House of Representatives to introduce House Bill 249 last week. HB249 states that protesters who damage property or block traffic should face tougher penalties under a criminal offense called “economic terrorism.”

“This bill, if passed in its final form, would apply to everyone equally, every group, every interest,” said Rep. Kevin. “It would apply equally to conservative groups, liberal groups, civil rights groups, and the list goes on and on. It does not discriminate. Bottom line is that protests should not disrupt innocent and uninvolved people’s lives and certainly not their property. I support any one’s right to protest or march for any cause. Any group whether liberal-conservative, white, black, tall or short, should do it in a lawful way to respect others’ property rights and the property rights of the public.”

HB249 isn’t specific to North Carolina. The bill makes N.C. one of 17 states where lawmakers have filed bills addressing recent protests across the country. The proposal comes in the wake of protests nationwide and in North Carolina, including the Women’s March on Raleigh and the Charlotte protests after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting.

If the bill passes, anyone who blocks roads while participating in a “riot or other unlawful assembly” would face Class A1 misdemeanor charges, the misdemeanor category with the longest sentences for jail, probation or community service. Illegally blocking roads for any other reason would remain a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Penalties would be even stricter for anyone convicted of the new crime of “economic terrorism,” which the bill defines as “a criminal offense that impedes or disrupts the regular course of business” by causing damage of at least $1,000 with the intent to “intimidate the civilian population” or a government entity. That would be a Class H felony, which typically carries a prison sentence of four to 25 months.

The legislation would also allow local governments to sue people convicted of riot, unlawful assembly, or traffic obstruction charges for the costs associated with law enforcement response.

HB249 passed the first reading on March 6 after being filed on March 2. The bill has now been referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House.