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Senate Bill 198 goes by the title “Rioting,” and, just like the real thing, there’s a lot of confusion and discord over what the bill actually says.

Republican Senator Michael Young of Marion County authored SB 198, but admits it needs a lot more work to adhere to the U.S. Constitution before he brings the bill back for a second reading in front of his Corrections & Criminal Law Committee next week.

“This bill would unconstitutionally chill by having an effect on the future lawful demonstration of peaceful protests and also the right to assemble,” said Michael Moore of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

“This is like the Nazis and the Stalinists who forced their children to report their parents doing illegal activities,” argued Senator Karen Tallian, a Democrat from Portage. “We can’t do that.”

“These people who destroy these properties are taking away from that message of people who come peacefully to air their grievances in a peaceful demonstration,” said Young, “and they not only bothered that, they destroyed our city.”

During the bill’s first hearing before the Senate committee this morning, lawmakers recalled the urban violence of 2020 that wracked American cities from coast-to-coast and was even visited upon the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

Two nights of rioting left two dead, more than one hundred arrested and in excess of $8 million in property losses and costs to downtown Indianapolis at the end of May.

The Indiana Statehouse and a number of memorial locations under the authority of state government were occupied, damaged or utilized as staging locations for the protests that turned violent.

“I think what happened this year was leadership in certain municipalities not knowing what to do and I think this does a good job of laying out the framework for what needs to be done by those individuals,” said Ed Merchant, representing the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police. “Anyone can do better at anything but specifically I question whether or not law enforcement was engaged at the right time, or at all, in certain circumstances because it certainly looked like perhaps, they were told not to be engaged.”

Young’s bill, as originally written, would not only increase penalties for rioters and demonstrators, it would hold protesters liable for the criminal acts of others in the crowd, require bystanders to report lawbreaking to police, leave cities and mayors financially on the hook for personal and property damages caused by rioters and authorize the state attorney general to pursue criminal charges should local prosecutors choose not to take protest arrestees to court.

“The Senate committee discussion today illustrates not only an overreach but a fundamental misunderstanding of what compels individuals to protest,” responded Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears in a statement to FOX59 News. “It is disappointing that the message some legislators took from the ongoing calls for racial justice was that protest should be criminalized. Ultimately, the impact of the bill will be to chill the expression of First Amendment Rights by peaceful people.”

“The events that occurred in Indianapolis over the summer, and in other parts of the country, were not a problem with not having enough crimes or punishment to deter criminal activity,” said Moore. “We have some serious concerns that this is a wide net, that it could encompass and bring a lot of people in and make them criminal when in fact they were just bystanders committing no criminal act, just happened to witness an act or be in the presence of the area or the zone where you have to leave.”

Young said his bill would spell out the powers mayors like Indianapolis’ Joe Hogsett would have in calling for a curfew in anticipation of widespread violence.

“Our mayor called on one of the nights for a curfew because I thought we had that in the law,” said Young. “I didn’t think anything about it until we started investigating and found out that there is no way for a mayor to call for a curfew.”

Hogsett was criticized last spring by downtown merchants and residents across the city who felt he waited too long until after two nights of rioting to call a curfew and should have expected the fallout of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis and nationwide protests to arrive in Indianapolis just three weeks after an IMPD officer fatally wounded an armed man on the city’s north side.

Young’s proposal takes that argument into consideration.

“If they knew it was coming and they had the means in which to stop it, then they’re liable if they didn’t,” said Young. “If they don’t do everything they can under their power to protect our citizens or businesses and things, that the immunity that they have under the law that protects them from having to be liable for actions of destruction and things that took place, they will no longer have that immunity and which means that businesses and people who have been injured may sue the city to collect their damages.”

Young agreed with Democrats on his committee that certain passages of the legislation would need to be stricken and rewritten before next week’s second hearing to clarify some ambiguities and contradictions.