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Arizona bill punishes even peaceful protesters when events turn violent

By Allen Cone
Young people march in front of the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on April 25, 2010, to voice their opposition to the passing and subsequent signing by Gov. Jan Brewer of legislation that allows law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally. The Arizona Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow the government to seize the property of people who help plan a demonstration that turns violent. File photo by Art Foxall/UPI
Young people march in front of the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on April 25, 2010, to voice their opposition to the passing and subsequent signing by Gov. Jan Brewer of legislation that allows law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally. The Arizona Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow the government to seize the property of people who help plan a demonstration that turns violent. File photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Arizona's Senate passed legislation that would punish all protesters -- even peaceful ones -- when a protest turns into a riot.

Senate Bill 1142 was sent to the state House of Representatives for a possible vote. The legislation passed 17-13 along party lines.

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If the bill becomes law, prosecutors could seize the assets of protesters, even if they didn't participate in any violence. The bill would add rioting to the list of offenses that could be charged under Arizona's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization laws.

The bill, according to a Senate fact sheet, stipulates that an "overt act is not required as proof of a riot offense."

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That means protest planners could be charged because someone else committed an "overt act" that caused a riot. The bill includes people causing damage to someone else's property.

"You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder," Arizona State Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican, told the Arizona Capitol Times. "A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists but this stuff is all planned.''

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Andrea Dalessandro, a Democrat, took an opposite stance.

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"I'm fearful that 'riot' is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard,'' she said.

Rick Romley, a former Maricopa County attorney, told Phoenix New Times that a lien placed on someone's home to recover the costs of an incident could "decimate" a person financially.

"The person hits the wall with his hand, damages sheet rock — and [organizers] are potentially liable for bringing everybody there?" Romley said. "That's just wrong. It's insane."

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Romley, a Republican, predicts the bill will be found unconstitutional by the courts.

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