2/1/2017Anti-Protest Laws Enhance Penalties For Blocking Highways
Lawmakers in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota seek greater penalties for obstructing roads and highways.
Statehouses around the nation are considering legislation designed to discourage political protesters from blocking traffic. The measures would enhance penalties and call for swift police action to restore the flow of traffic.
Last July, around three hundred Black Lives Matter activists in St. Paul, Minnesota shut down Interstate 94 for over five hours to protest the police shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop. In California, protests spread to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, Interstate 880 in Oakland, Interstate 405 in Los Angeles and Interstate 15 in San Diego. They also took over Interstate 75 in Atlanta, Georgia; Interstate 40 in Memphis, Tennessee; and Interstate 110 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In Richmond, Virginia, thirteen demonstrators were ultimately sentenced to five days in jail for blocking Interstate 95. Protests on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona cost the city $250,000, according to city councilman Sal DiCiccio.
A Black Lives Matter protest on Interstate 93 in Boston, Massachusetts in 2015 kept an ambulance carrying an automobile accident victim from reaching a trauma center. A dozen protesters received six months of unsupervised probation as punishment, while another group of eighteen got off without charges.
Minnesota lawmakers sought to enhance penalties with House File 55, a bill making it a gross misdemeanor, punishable by a $3000 fine and a year in prison, to intentionally obstruct a trunk highway. A proposal in Iowa, Senate File 111, goes even further by making freeway-blocking a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $7500 fine. Not to be outdone, North Dakota, lawmakers allow motorists caught in the middle of a protest to push through anyone obstructing traffic without worrying about the consequences.
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages," House Bill 1203 states.
In Indiana, Senate Bill Number 285 directs police to clear away any "protest riot or other assembly" that blocks traffic within fifteen minutes. The Massachusetts General Assembly decided in 2015 to study whether the fine for disrupting traffic should be increased to $2500 and a year in jail. A report on the proposal was due at the beginning of the year.
A copy of the legislation in four states is available in a 400k PDF file at the source link below.