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Texas Lawmaker Proposes Increasing Penalties For Damage Caused During Protests

Texas Department of Public Safety officers stand by inside the state Capitol on the first day of the legislative session.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Texas Department of Public Safety officers stand by inside the state Capitol on the first day of the legislative session in January.

In response to nationwide racial justice protests, a Texas lawmaker has proposed a law that would increase the penalty for engaging in activities that result in property damage and harm to first responders.

Senate Bill 912, filed by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway), would increase the penalty for damage caused by riot participation from a Class B misdemeanor to a state jail felony. A person convicted under the proposed law could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Currently, that person would face up to 18 days in jail and a fine of no more than $2,000.

At a public hearing Monday before the Senate Committee on State Affairs, the executive director of the group Informed Citizens asked lawmakers to address the cause of these protests, rather than their aftereffects.

“Informed Citizens are not opposed to SB 912. However, as the doctor knows, addressing the symptoms will not address or eliminate the cause,” Ed Heimlich said, referring to Buckingham, who is an ophthalmologist.

Heimlich cited arrests during demonstrations in Russia and Hong Kong, and said they just show the protests were justified.

“The arrests may please the heads of government, but they bring those governments into disrepute,” he said. “They cover up the tumor, while the cancer is allowed to grow.”

When she filed the bill, Buckingham tweeted that it was in response to Austin's handling of protests last summer.

“Those who seek to hijack our 1st amendment rights, destroy homes and businesses, and harm 1st responders should be held accountable,” she said in her tweet. “That is why I’ve filed SB912, because cities like Austin refuse to hold rioters accountable.”

The Austin Police Association, which represents more than 1,800 Austin police officers, tweeted its support for the bill and thanked Buckingham for filing it.

The committee is expected to vote on SB 912 in the coming weeks.

Haya Panjwani is a 2021 legislative fellow for The Texas Newsroom.

Haya Panjwani