Lawmakers adopt penalties for failing to protect monuments

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Legislature passed a bill Thursday that allows the state to withhold funding to cities that fail to protect public monuments and memorials from vandalism, part of an attempt by Republican lawmakers to deter protests that have elevated since the death of George Floyd.

State agencies would be allowed to withhold certain discretionary funds from local governments that don’t prioritize the protection of certain facilities, monuments, memorials and statues, according to the legislation. State police would also be required to assist local governments when investigating people who desecrate any monuments and memorials.

“This is honestly a bill I hope never has to be used, and I hope not a single penny has to be held from a political subdivision,” said Republican Sen. Eric Koch, of Bedford. “But we hold certain monuments and .. memorials with very special significance.”

The Senate measure was amended by lawmakers in the House to also revive language from another bill to make it easier to charge rioters with a felony.

Rioting is raised from a Class A misdemeanor to a level six felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to 2.5 years and a fine of up to $50,000 if there’s resulting property damage or serious bodily injury, according to the provision.

The felony further increases to a level five — carrying one to six years in prison — if it results in catastrophic injury, death or damage of at least $50,000.

Enabling rioting would additionally become a Class B misdemeanor. The charge applies to anyone present while members of an unlawful assembly are committing a felony, knows that the action is criminal and fails to leave the area or report the act to police. Currently, it carries no penalty.

The bill, which now heads to the governor, is part of a series introduced by Republican legislators that seek to increase penalties for rioting, vandalizing monuments, blocking emergency vehicles and violating curfews.

The proposals came in response to May 2020 protests against racial injustice and police brutality spurred by Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody. In Indianapolis, it resulted in several nights of sometimes violent protests, as well as clashes between demonstrators and police.