The bill creates the crime of “economic terrorism,” which is defined as an act obstructing regular business if the obstruction causes more than $1,000 in damages and is intended to influence government officials.
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.
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the conservative John Locke Foundation, pointed to the violent offenders in the Charlotte protests as a demonstration of the need for additional restrictions.
“...These were folks who went to the protest with the intent of wreaking havoc and causing damage,” he said. “And so they took what was initially a very emotional but focused and lawful protest and turned it into a riot.”
Mike Meno, communications director for the N.C. ACLU, said he questioned the need for more legislation, as there are already laws in place to discourage violent protests.
“It leads to some real questions about what the true intent is here,” Meno said.
Kokai said economic and traffic disruption are separate issues to address legally.
“This is addressing something that has a negative impact on other people’s liberty and freedom, but doesn’t rise to the level of vandalism,” he said.
Due to the vague language of the bill, Meno said it could be arbitrarily enforced.
“Things like trying to demonstrate that a place lost business or that someone is intimidating someone else, those are very vague terms,” he said.
The sponsors of the bill could not be reached for comment.
UNC political science professor Frank Baumgartner said labeling protesters as terrorists is unfortunate.
“One of the greatest forms of patriotism is to use your voice to try to make your country better,” he said.
Though the bill might be proven unconstitutional, Baumgartner said the legislature could still pass it.
“It hasn’t stopped other legislatures and it hasn’t stopped this legislature from passing other laws that in retrospect, may have gone too far,” he said.
N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said the bill threatens First Amendment rights to assemble.
Criminalizing deliberate causation of an economic loss of more than $1,000 is particularly undemocratic, he said.
“If that would have existed in the 1960s, it would have prevented the sit-in movement from starting in Greensboro,” he said.