Finally lawmakers are starting to listen to ordinary citizens. They’re cracking down on lawlessness and some are not happy. Too bad!
From Washington Post:
The protests of 2016, against pipelines and police shootings and a presidential candidate, have sparked lawmakers in eight states to consider bills boosting penalties for unlawful demonstrations. They include one that would protect drivers who “unintentionally” run over activists blocking roads and another aimed at forcing protesters to pay up to three times the costs of any damage they caused.
In Washington state, a lawmaker termed some protests “economic terrorism” and introduced a bill that would permit judges to tack on an additional year in jail to a sentence if the protester was “attempting to or causing an economic disruption.”
In Minnesota, a person convicted of participating or being present at “an unlawful assembly” could be held liable for costs incurred by police and other public agencies.
And in Indiana, a proposed law would direct police encountering a mass traffic obstruction to clear the road by “any means necessary,” echoing a phrase made famous by Malcolm X during the 1960s civil rights movement.
“We’re not trying to restrict people’s right to protest peaceably,” said Iowa state Sen. Jake Chapman (R), in comments similar to those by legislators involved with each of the measures. He introduced his bill, increasing the penalty for blocking a high-speed highway from a misdemeanor to a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, after an anti-Donald Trump protest by high school students in November blocked one direction of Interstate 80 for 30 minutes. “But there’s appropriate places and times. And the interstate is not one of those places. . . . Right now they’re going to get charged with jaywalking and fined $35. That doesn’t fit the crime, in my opinion.”
More from WP:
Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union specializing in First Amendment issues, said she had seen occasional attempts to crack down on protests over the years.
“But I’ve never seen a coordinated attack on protesters’ rights anywhere near this scale,” Rowland said. “What all of these bills have in common is they may be dressed up as being about obstruction or public safety, but make no mistake about it: These are about suppressing protests with draconian penalties so that the average person would think twice before getting out on the street and making their voice heard.”
Yeah, that’s the point. They should think twice before they shut down a road that an emergency vehicle could be racing to an accident on. Or how about a woman in labor. Or even just a family heading out for dinner.
None of the measures have passed yet. All have been proposed by Republicans. Rowland called them “undoubtedly unconstitutional” and said the ACLU would challenge any which are signed into law.
But their sponsors said they reflect the public’s frustration with prolonged, disruptive protests, such as those at the Dakota Access pipeline, where demonstrators have camped for months, and the Black Lives Matter protests around the Minneapolis area, which have at times closed parts of the famed Mall of America.
Most states have laws restricting protests at funerals, after protests outside military services prompted outrage, and federal law and some states regulate protests near abortion clinics. But Jonathan Griffin of the National Conference of State Legislatures said he had not seen such a spate of bills addressing protests in general.
Some feel the protesters frequently go too far.
“In Minnesota,” said state Rep. Nick Zerwas, “blocking freeways and closing down the airport have become the go-to move for the protester class.” His bill would make someone who is convicted of participating or being present at an unlawful assembly “civilly liable for public safety response costs.”
“My point is,” Zerwas said, “you don’t have free speech rights for the middle of the freeway. If you block the freeway, go to jail. And when you get out of jail, you should get a bill for riot.”
The wave of new protest-related bills “is a sign, not of any coordination” between lawmakers in various states, Zerwas said. “I think that’s the electorate talking to their elected representatives saying they’re sick and tired of that nonsense,” he said.
The standing protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota began last April and has annoyed many residents because it involves people interfering with traffic on a nearby highway, Rep. Keith Kempenich said. He said the protest was located 40 miles from any population center, so demonstrators were not going to get any attention unless they took dramatic action. In one episode, traffic on the 65-mph road was slowed to a crawl, ensnaring some of Kempenich’s family members. “At that point, I thought, ‘this isn’t right,’ ” he said.
He introduced a bill, which states that any driver “who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road . . . is not guilty of an offense.” Kempenich said, “The First Amendment works both ways. You’ve got the right to assemble peacefully and legally. The other side of it is other people who don’t want to participate. . . . I just intended it to keep people that didn’t want to be involved in this from being drawn into it.”
Similar sentiments about keeping the roads clear, particularly for public safety and emergency vehicles, were voiced by officials in Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana. “The object of this measure is very simple,” said state Sen. Jim Tomes of Indiana in a statement about his bill directing law enforcement to use “any means necessary” to clear roads. “An ambulance needs to be able to get to an individual who is having a heart attack, and law enforcement needs to be able to respond to a call to attend to someone who needs help.”
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