Seven Recent Anti-Protest Bills That Are Threatening The Foundation Of Our Democracy
Casting aspersions on protesters has been a go-to political strategy for centuries. The most commonly heard accusation today is that "most" of the visible marchers and sign-wavers are actually professionals who are being paid — from someone, somewhere — to be out causing a ruckus. Such excuses were used to explain the rise of the right-wing Tea Party (supposedly financed by the Koch brothers, of course), and now they are being trotted out to dismiss the millions who have materialized for and against various causes since the election and inauguration of President Trump. Only this time, Republican legislators are attempting to actually shut down certain modes of protest.
As the Washington Post reported, at least 18 states have introduced or voted on legislation that would curb current provisions for protesters. Given that Republicans control 68 state chambers, as opposed to just 31 for Democrats, the opportunity for such bills to pass seems relatively high. However, as of now, not a single one of these proposed changes has made it through the legislative process into actual law. That's a bit of good news in an otherwise disappointing reaction to legitimate protest in the age of Trump.
Here are just a few of the states that either already have introduced or are considering legislation to limit protest.
1. Arizona Tries To Put Rioting On Par With Racketeering
Arizona's SB1142 attempted to make planning or being involved in a potential riot a felony charge. On top of that, SB1142 would have given the police the potential ability to arrest protesters who were not themselves being violent in any way, provided there were others engaging in property destruction or personal violence. The proposed legislation passed the senate, but House Speaker J.D. Mesnard refused to bring it up for consideration, effectively killing SB1142.
2. Iowa Ups Criminal Punishment For Blocking Highway Traffic
Despite the fact that laws already prohibit the obstruction of highway traffic, legislators in Iowa want to make the penalties much harsher. Over 100 protesters stopped traffic on I-80 in reaction to Trump's election, and Republican lawmakers say they are reacting out of concern for both protesting citizens and drivers alike. The new law, known as Senate File 111, would make shutting down highway lanes punishable by up to five years in prison, along with a fine of as much as $7,500.
3. Minnesota Lawmakers React To BLM By Proposing Protesters Be Charged For Cost Of Police response
Minnesota has been the site of some of the most prolonged protests, as Black Lives Matter has organized extensively throughout the state. In response, a Republican-backed bill recently passed through the Minnesota house that would charge protesters convicted of "illegal" tactics with the police response cost.
4. North Dakota Protects Motorists Who "Unintentionally" Hit Protesters On Roadways
Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline have used an array of protest tactics, including shutting down a highway back in August. Now, House Bill 1203 is proposing to remove culpability from any motorist who "unintentionally" hits — or even kills — a protester who happens to be blocking a roadway.
5. Tennessee Also Clears Drivers Of Liability For Hitting Protesters
Responding to protests that have disrupted traffic, Republican legislators have filed a bill in the Tennessee General Assembly that would bar drivers from being liable for hitting protesters who are "blocking traffic in a public right of way."
6. Virginia Voted Down A Bill Seeking To Jail Persons Who Did Not Leave "Unlawful" Protests
Introduced by a Republican in Virginia's senate, Senate Bill 1055 sought harsher punishment for protesters who stayed at an event after it had been shut down and they'd been asked to leave. The bill would make jail a possibility for offenders, whereas before protester could only be given a fine. Virginia's state Senate rejected the bill with a bipartisan majority vote against it.
7. Washington State Proposes Harsher Punishment For "Economic Terrorism"
Introduced by Rep. Doug Ericksen, now also acting in a temporary role for Trump's EPA, Senate Bill 5009 would put harsher penalties on protesters who disrupt commerce or otherwise harm economic interests. The bill has not been taken up for a vote yet.
That every single one of these bills has been introduced by Republicans should give everyone pause. Legislation with similar aim has also been put forward in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Dakota. It looks more like a state-by-state attempt to discourage protest against a Republican president and his policies than a genuine effort to protect the peace and uphold the law.