Kentucky bill criminalizing taunts against police stalls

FRANKFORT, Ky (AP) — A bill that would make it a crime to taunt a police officer in Kentucky has stalled in the state’s House of Representatives and appears unlikely to pass, but the fate of a proposal to ban no-knock warrants statewide is less certain more than a year after the police killing of Breonna Taylor.

Lawmakers failed to bring the anti-taunting legislation up for a vote by Tuesday night. With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, under the legislature’s own rules, the General Assembly would not have the opportunity to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, despite Republicans supermajorities in both the House and Senate.

A partial ban on no-knock warrants passed the Kentucky Senate last month, but two representatives, both retired Kentucky State police officers, have proposed amendments that some warn would nullify the bill. GOP Senate President Robert Stivers, who sponsored the bill, has said there is a chance the governor would sign it into law if a bipartisan consensus is met.

The separate anti-taunting legislation would have made it a misdemeanor for anyone who “accosts, insults, taunts, or challenges a law enforcement officer with offensive or derisive words, or by gestures or other physical contact, that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response.” Offenders would have faced up to 90 days in jail and fines, and the proposal also would have increased penalties for rioting.

State Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican and former police officer, has said he filed the measure in response to months of demonstrations in Louisville, where large protests occurred last year in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death.

Taylor, a Black woman, was shot in her Louisville home multiple times by police during a botched drug raid. A grand jury indicted one officer on wanton endangerment charges in September for shooting into a neighbor’s apartment, but no officers were charged in connection with her death. That was based in part on the presentation of Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who recommended no charges against the officers who shot into Taylor’s apartment.

Police had a no-knock warrant but said they knocked and announced their presence before entering Taylor’s apartment, a claim some witnesses have disputed. No drugs were found in Taylor’s apartment.

Under the proposed no-knock warrant bill, the warrants would only be issued if there was “clear and convincing evidence” that the “crime alleged is a crime that would qualify a person, if convicted, as a violent offender.” The warrants would also have to be executed between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

One House floor amendment would lengthen the execution time to midnight and permit officers to consult with the attorney general’s office before a raid, nixing a requirement that they only consult a local prosecutor. Another change would authorize no-knock warrants for suspected drug crimes. It would also permit the use of audio recorders instead of body cameras.

“These amendments undermine the intent of the bill to such a degree that, if included, the status quo will be maintained and we will still be stuck with the same harmful laws and practices that led to the tragic death of Breonna Taylor,” said Carmen Mitchell, an analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Democratic lawmakers and demonstrators have railed against the anti-taunting legislation, warning that it could be used to suppress peaceful protests, particularly Black demonstrators who have been at the center of the Louisville protests.

At a March 13 rally in Louisville marking the one-year anniversary of Taylor’s death, Sadiqa Reynolds, president of the Louisville Urban League, derided the measure as a “shut-up-and-take-it bill.”

Jecorey Arthur, Louisville city council member from Louisville’s predominantly Black West End neighborhood, also joined State. Rep. Attica Scott in criticizing the bill on a locally televised panel Monday night.

Arthur and others say the proposal violates First Amendment rights to free speech.

“It’s silly because it’s outright unconstitutional, and it’s serious because it really sends a strong message, sends a statement that some of our law enforcement, some of the people across this Commonwealth care more about white feelings than Black killings,” Arthur said.

Lawmakers in Indiana, Alabama, Utah, and other GOP-led states have also proposed legislation that would increase penalties for rioting. Under a Tennessee law passed last year, protesters could lose their right to vote for breaking certain laws during demonstrations.

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Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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