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States Seek to Penalize Protesters from Obstructing Traffic

Laws are being considered to penalize demonstrators that intentionally block traffic on highways.

protests genericTN, SD, IA, NC, WA, MN, AR, MS, and FL seek to address protestors blocking roads.

Over the last few years, there has been a dramatic increase in large public demonstrations related to the Black Lives Matter movement, and most recently, surrounding the election of Donald Trump as President. While most protests have been peaceful, some have migrated to busy highways blocking motorists, and more seriously, emergency vehicles.

As a result, several states are considering laws that would penalize individuals for intentionally blocking traffic:

  • Tennessee passed a law making blocking of a highway, street, railway, and other routes a Class C misdemeanor with a fine of $50, and a fine of $200 for impeding an emergency vehicle.

  • South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed into law in March a law making it illegal to block traffic. The state Department of Transportation now also can establish temporary no-parking zones.

  • Iowa has a bill in a subcommittee that would make it illegal for people to purposely interfere with traffic on highways with a speed limit of 55 or greater. Violators could be fined as much as $7,500, and could spend up to five years in prison.

  • North Carolina has put forth a bill that grants immunity to motorists “exercising due care” in the event they injure a protestor disrupting traffic from legal consequences. Motorists guilty of intentionally hitting demonstrators can be prosecuted for civil liability.

  • Washington state has introduced a bill that would extend jail time for criminal acts that involve “economic disruption” such as blocking a highway. Misdemeanor offenders could receive 60 more days of jail time, while a felony could extend a sentence by 12 months.

  • Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill earlier in May that would have increased fines for demonstrators intentionally blocking roadways. Violators currently can receive up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1000. The new bill intended to increase the fine and jail time.

  • Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill intended to raise “mass picketing” to a Class A misdemeanor.

  • Mississippi and Florida both had bills that died in legislation. Mississippi proposed a bill that would punish people blocking traffic with up to 5 years imprisonment and $10,000 fine. Florida’s bill would have made obstruction of a public road a second-degree misdemeanor.

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