GOP Lawmakers Propose Bills To Criminalize Peaceful Protests

The proposals would give free range to authorities to levy fines and even slap prison time on people who participate in civil disobedience protests.

Republican lawmakers across the country have started proposing anti-protest bills designed to discourage and penalize demonstrations — even if they are peaceful protests.

The proposals, which came in response to the recent demonstrations by the Dakota Access Pipeline and Black Lives Matter activists, would give free range to authorities to levy fines and even prison time on people who participate in civil disobedience protests.

For instance, Rep. Keith Kempenich of North Dakota recently introduced House Bill 1203 that would enable motorists to “accidentally” run over protesters on highway but be protected from any liability resulting from injury or death of the protester.

Minnesota Rep. Kathy Lohmer is pushing a bill that bans protests on freeways.

“Freeways are not really public spaces, like parks and places like that. You need a license to drive on the freeway. You can’t walk on the freeway,” she said.

Right now, protesting on freeways is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of $1,000 and a three-month stint in jail. Her new bill would turn it into a gross misdemeanor that will carry a fine up to $3,000 and a year in jail.

Doug Ericksen, who was deputy director of the Trump campaign in Washington, wants a law that would make protests, which he calls “economic terrorism,” a “C” class felony.

The Michigan House of Representatives passed a pair of anti-union bills that would make it tough for workers and unions to picket, while simultaneously make it easier for employers to hire workers to replace the striking one — a move that could severely undermine the purpose of protests. The motion would have fined an individual protesters $1,000 per day and a union or organization $10,000 per day, but thankfully, the proposal was shelved.

Virginia Senate Bill 1055 would have increased penalties for refusing to disperse when police declare “unlawful assembly” and would increase a misdemeanor charges that brings only fine to potential jail time too. Fortunately, the bill died earlier this year.

Despite the fact that some bills have been shelved, civil liberty activists have been alarmed with their increasing frequency.

“This trend of anti-protest legislation dressed up as ‘obstruction’ bills is deeply troubling,” said Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, who believes such bills are violations of the First Amendment. “A law that would allow the state to charge a protester $10,000 for stepping in the wrong place, or encourage a driver to get away with manslaughter because the victim was protesting, is about one thing: chilling protest.”

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Patrick T. Fallon

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