Harsher Penalties For Crimes During Protests Get Cool Reception In Unicam Committee

       A bill imposing harsher penalties on protesters who loot, riot. or commit other crimes received a chilly reception Wednesday from the Nebraska legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

       It was modeled after a recently passed Tennessee law and was introduced in response to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests in Omaha and Lincoln that led to property damage and one death. 

      Among other things, the bill would make it a felony to damage or spray-paint law enforcement property, throw bodily fluids or aim laser pointers at an officer, or knowingly participate in a riot where someone is seriously hurt.

   .Critics of the bill argued that it would infringe on free-speech rights and punish people who gather peacefully. 

      Opponents also complained that as the bill is currently written, prosecutors would be able to charge anyone who was just present at a riot with all crimes that took place during it.

    Omaha Senator Steve Lathrop, an attorney and chairman of the committee, said it’s difficult for lawmakers to pass such a measure without running afoul of the constitutional rights of protesters to assemble peacefully.