Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced proposed measures Thursday aimed to stop those who riot or otherwise attempt to assault law enforcement during protests.
The governor, along with Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Lake Jackson, made the announcement during a press conference held at the Dallas Police Association.
Gov. Abbott announced six pieces of proposed legislation that would beef up penalties when charging people with crimes committed during a riot.
“The Constitution guarantees the right to assemble peaceably — peaceably is the word used in the Constitution — it does not provide the right to riot,” Gov. Abbott said. “Texas will always defend the First Amendment right to peaceful protest, but Texas is not going to tolerate violence, vandalism or rioting.”
The proposed penalties associated with riot-based crimes are:
- Causing injury or destroying property during a riot is a felony and will result in jail time
- Hitting or otherwise striking an officer carries a minimum six-month jail sentence
- Using lasers to target officers will result in jail time
- Blocking hospital entrances and exits during a riot will result in jail time
- Using fireworks during a riot will result in jail time
- Aiding and abetting a riot, like providing financial or organizational support even if not at the riot itself, will be a felony and carry a potential jail sentence
“If you harm a police officer, they’re not going to be walking the streets again for at least six months after you commit that crime,” Abbott explained a few of these increase penalties for existing laws.
Others are completely new. “Using fireworks at protests and riots, is a new one.”
Aiding and abetting a riot and blocking hospital entrances are also new, but nothing will be changing yet.
These are all just proposals, and the next legislative session does not begin until January.
Texas Democrats call the Governor’s proposals a political ploy.
“It’s all for show and not for actual use,” Abhi Rahman with the TDP said, “He can threaten to make a police state all he wants, but if he wants to actually protect police officers, again, it goes back to his coronavirus response.”
Speaker Bonnen defended the Governor’s proposals Thursday.
“What governor Abbott’s laying out today, brings honor and dignity and respect to the cause. When someone peacefully and respectfully and passionately is protesting, they should not have that belief destroyed by people who have ill intent,” Bonnen said.
This is not the first legislative proposal related to public safety. In August, Gov. Abbott proposed any Texas cities that defund the police will have their ability to increase property taxes frozen.
Earlier this month, Abbott announced another measure to discourage cities from defunding the police, although he would not give a specific definition of what “defunding” means to him.
He said any cities that attempt to defund police, “will forever lose their annexation powers, & any areas and any residents that have ever been annexed by that city in the past will have the power to dis-annex them from the city.”
Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party executive director, called that move a “political stunt.”