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On behalf of Americans for Prosperity West Virginia, I urge you to oppose HB 2916. This vote may be recorded in our 2023 session legislative scorecard.
The Right to Protest is a hallmark of America and constitutionally protected under the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Millions have exercised this right in ways both small and large to shape the nation we know today. Rioting is not protesting. Violence and destruction of property are not free speech—and are already covered under criminal penalties in West Virginia code. In an attempt to protect against rioting and ensure public safety, this misguided legislation instead threatens free expression.
Public officials are duty bound to protect public safety while also honoring their oath of office to uphold constitutional rights and civil liberties. Well-crafted policy protects property, promotes the common interest in the reliability of governance, and safeguards the right to free expression. Some laws intended to address rioting are unnecessarily vague, leaving citizens worried that they may face criminal prosecution simply for exercising their right to free speech. Additionally, overly aggressive prosecutors may take advantage of this vagueness to push a personal agenda aimed at particular groups or individuals. Unfortunately, HB 2916 falls prey to several of the issues outlined above.
Free speech transcends the political divide. When government erodes First Amendment rights–including the freedoms of speech and peaceful protest—it hurts people and causes across the political spectrum. We all have an interest in guaranteeing that West Virginians may exercise their constitutional rights to speak freely and to petition for redress of grievances as they see them. We also share an interest in public safety, which is already more than adequately accounted for in current criminal and civil law.
It is for these reasons I respectfully urge you to oppose this legislation that would weaken citizens’ First Amendment rights.
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