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Lawmakers Want Increased Penalties against Protestors
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Almost one million protestors gathered at the Women’s March in Washington DC. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Summary: Eight states have proposed laws that could negatively impact peaceful protesting.

There is no doubt that the United States is experiencing a period of political turmoil. In response to that, Republican lawmakers in eight states have called for legislation that can increase penalties for protesting, even the peaceful kind.

  
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According to The Intercept, lawmakers from Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Iowa, Indiana, North Dakota, Virginia, and Colorado are pushing for laws to punish protestors. This includes creating penalties for dissenters who stop traffic, allowing drivers immunity if they accidentally kill a protestor on the street, and giving police the right to end protests using “any means necessary.”

These controversial proposals are a response to the high-profile protests that have occurred around the country. For instance, millions of women marched around the nation on Saturday to protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump, a man with a history of misogynistic comments and alleged nefarious actions. Before the Women’s March, our country saw a huge wave of other organized protests in 2016. People gathered for months in North Dakota to challenge the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They were opposed to the project’s potential environmental impact and infringement on Native American rights. Additionally, in almost all major cities, the Black Lives Matter movement gathered to call for an end to police brutality against African-Americans.

Liberals have already decried these proposed protestor bills, stating they violate people’s Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly; but conservatives state that these laws are necessary to stop violence and maintain safety. For example, at some protests in 2016, people blocked freeways or looted stores.

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In Minnesota, the blocking of roads prompted Republican House Representative Pat Garofalo to call for the “obstruction” charge to become a felony. The obstruction of justice charge is a common charge used against protestors, and Garofalo wants higher penalties inflicted upon people who block roads during peak hours. He said that these protestors’ actions could stop ambulances and police from reaching their destinations and that they are a public nuisance.

“We have a professional protester class that is jeopardizing public safety with their actions,” Garofalo told The Twin Cities Pioneer Press.



In Virginia, state lawmakers want to curb “unlawful assembly” so they are upping the current fines for people who refuse to leave after being told to disperse. Currently, disobeying orders results in a $500 fine, but if the bill from Republican Senator Richard H. Stuart passes, protestors could expect one year in jail and a fine of $2,500. That could mean that anything from a small adult gathering to peaceful student sit-ins could result in jail time. While Republican senators reportedly believe they have a good shot of passing this law, The Intercept said there is a high chance Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe will veto the bill if it reaches his office.

Senator Jerry Sonnenberg of Colorado has introduced a bill that would make any obstructing or tampering with oil and gas equipment a felony instead of the misdemeanor it is classified as of now. Although the language of his bill does not specifically target environmental protestors, this change is intended to curb them from damaging property, a problem that occurs in Colorado due to the fierce fight between environmentalists and the oil and gas industry in the state. According to The Intercept, “With control of Colorado’s legislature split between parties and a Democrat in the governor’s office, the future of Sonnenberg’s bill is uncertain.”

Do you agree or disagree with the new proposed legislation? Let us know in the comments below. 



 

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