State Legislatures Propose Stiffer Consequences For Protesters Blocking Traffic

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Kerry Picket Political Reporter
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In a sign that the Obama era of law enforcement is over, state and local legislatures are hitting back at violent protesters and activists who obstruct motor vehicles by passing harsher fines and penalties for those who participate in such activities.

The Intercept appeared alarmed by the trend and reported Black Lives Matter and similar protest groups are crying foul, but legislators like Minnesota State Republican Rep. Nick Zerwas said Thursday morning that lives are at stake.

Republicans in Minnesota’s legislature introduced a bill that hikes fines for protesting on a freeway and blocking traffic. Prosecutors could seek a year of jail for protesters who engage in these incidences.

Another Minnesota bill, which passed a House panel on Tuesday, would enable state agencies, municipalities and towns to sue protesters convicted of unlawful assembly or public nuisance. Outraged protesters disrupted the hearing on the bill screaming at legislators and chanted “Shame, Shame.” The author of the bill, Republican State Representative Nick Zerwas told “Fox and Friends” Thursday morning that he was motivated to craft the bill after a Minneapolis cancer patient was blocked in traffic by protesters and could not get to a much-needed doctor’s appointment at the Mayo Clinic.

“So they blocked the road for hours and she missed her appoint at the Mayo clinic. When she called to make another appointment, she was told she could get back in [to the clinic] in another three months,” Zerwas said.

In North Dakota, ground zero for the Dakota Pipeline Access protesters, the state legislature introduced a bill almost two weeks ago that would exempt liability of an operator of a motor vehicle in an accident with a pedestrian when, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway is not guilty of an offense.”

In Washington state, a provision was put forth to call some demonstrations “economic terrorism,” and urged that certain activity that happens at protests should be felonies, The Seattle Times reported.

Virginia Republicans attempted to pass a law in their state that would stiffen the penalty for demonstrators who stay at the scene of a riot or unlawful assembly, but it failed to pass the state Senate.

Similar to a longtime New York City law, Missouri has proposed legislation that would make it a crime to conceal a one’s identity if the individual is part of an unlawful assembly or rioting  “intentionally conceals his or her identity by the means of a robe, mask, or other disguise.” Exemptions are made for religious, safety or medical purposes.

Colorado Republicans are also looking into legislation that would increase the penalties of tampering with “equipment associated with oil or gas gathering operations. The bill includes placing another at risk of death or serious bodily injury as part of the crime and increases the penalty from a class 2 misdemeanor to a class 6 felony.”

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Kerry Picket