GOP lawmaker pushes bill to punish cities that defund police

GOP lawmaker pushes bill to punish cities that defund police

Phoenix Police officers watch protesters rally June 2, 2020, in Phoenix during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. Groups and politicians from both sides of the aisle are pushing to limit qualified immunity for police officers, a legal doctrine that makes it nearly impossible to prevail in lawsuits against the police. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Phoenix Police officers watch protesters rally June 2, 2020, in Phoenix during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A Republican House member has, with the support of most of his caucus, introduced bills to take state money away from cities that cut their police budgets and to create tougher new penalties for people who take part in riots.

“Proposals to defund police departments are reckless and dangerous,” Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said in a written statement Friday. “Once unthinkable, except to left-wing extremists, such calls appear to have recently gained disturbing traction in some mainstream Democratic circles. More than ever, our communities need the protection that only law enforcement can offer – and that’s why we must do everything to protect the resources that enable officers to do their job.  This legislation will prevent radical efforts to defund police budgets and help protect law enforcement and keep communities safe.”

Roberts is the main sponsor of both the anti-police defunding bill H2310 and the anti-rioter bill H2309, and he has the backing of the overwhelming majority of his fellow House Republicans on both. Twenty-four out of the House’s 31 Republicans are co-sponsoring H2310, and 26 are co-sponsoring H2309. House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who called them “thoughtful and timely bills that recognize and respect the importance of supporting the work of law enforcement to keep Arizona communities safe,” have signed onto both.

H2309 would create a new class 6 felony crime of violent or disorderly assembly, “if a person, with seven or more other persons acting together, and with the intent to engage in conduct constituting a riot or an unlawful assembly, causes damage to property or injury to another person,” according to the bill summary, and anyone convicted under it would be barred from receiving state or local public benefits in the future. It also says someone arrested for violent or disorderly assembly cannot be released from custody for at least 12 hours “unless a magistrate finds that the person is not likely to immediately resume the criminal behavior.” It would reclassify assaulting a peace officer while violating this law as a class 6 felony and require at least 6 months in jail for anyone convicted thereof. And, it would raise obstructing a highway, public nuisance, shining a laser pointer at a police officer or recklessly damaging property worth between $250 and $1,000 from a misdemeanor to a class 6 felony if done in the course of committing violent or disorderly assembly.

“I find it deeply troubling that violence, rioting, and the destruction of property has become an accepted norm in cities across the nation, and local leaders doing little to stop it,” Roberts said. “We cannot enable such activity in Arizona and should take all appropriate steps to discourage it and punish those who engage in it.”

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Laveen, who is on the House Judiciary Committee, called the portions of H2309 limiting bail “clearly unconstitutional” and compared the bill overall to one cracking down on sanctuary cities Roberts sponsored last year.

“The sanctuary cities bill was a dog whistle that the representative blew very loudly, and this is another dog whistle that the representative blew very loudly,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the bill targets the Black Lives Matter movement and that the provision barring convicted rioters from public benefits plays on racist tropes about people of color relying on such programs.

“So again, that bill in my mind is clearly a dog whistle,” Rodriguez said. “It is not necessary and it only highlights what we’ve seen in the disparity between how law enforcement treats peaceful people of color who are protesting our rights and the fascist white supremacist groups who invaded our Capitol.”

H2310 says if a city, county or town cuts its police budget by more than 10%, the state will withhold tax monies it distributes to local governments from them in the same amount. Municipalities that reverse any such budget cuts would have their funding restored. The bill contains an exception for municipalities that cut their overall budget (i.e. not just the police budget) by more than 10%.

The idea of defunding the police — which has different meanings to different supporters of the idea, with many advocates arguing for cutting police budgets and redirecting the money to mental health and other social services — broke into the mainstream discussion this spring when the country was engulfed in protests triggered by the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed black men at the hands of police.

Republicans nationwide, including President Trump, have pushed back against cutting police budgets — many of them made it a theme of last year’s election — and have called for a tough response to protests that result in violence or property damage. GOP state legislators throughout the country have been proposing bills similar to Roberts’.

Rodriguez said legislative Democrats aren’t trying to cut law enforcement budgets and called H2310 “just another attack on representative democracy by Republicans in Arizona” and an attempt to dictate to local governments.

“It falls in line with efforts to restrict citizen initiatives,” Rodriguez said. “It falls in line with the other parts of their pre-emption agenda, and the people of Arizona are sick and tired of the Republican majority and the Republican (elected officials) pushing these attacks on representative democracy and what the people want.”