US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker, part of ICNL’s US Program, follows initiatives at the state and federal level since November 2016 that restrict the right to protest.

31 states have considered 63 bills 8 enacted 28 pending 27 defeated / expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: May. 21, 2018 (Minnesota), May. 15, 2018 (Georgia), May. 1, 2018 (Colorado)
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Alabama

HB 94: Felony charges for disruptive protesters

Would make it a felony for a person to do something illegal to prevent "or attempt to prevent" a public speaking event. Accordingly, a protester who disrupts a public speech while committing another infraction (e.g. trespassing) could be charged with a Class B felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Critics argue that the bill provides for disproportionately harsh penalties, and that its broad language would enable authorities to enforce it selectively. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Jan 2018.

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Arizona

SB 1033: Felony penalty for protesters who conceal their identity

Would heighten the penalties for an individual convicted of participating in an unlawful assembly or a riot, if the individual "obscures or hides the person's identity with a mask, disguise, makeup, or other device" during the event. Under the bill, conviction for unlawful assembly (a Class 1 misdemeanor) would become a Class 6 felony if committed while wearing a mask, punishable by up to two years in prison. Conviction for riot (a Class 5 felony) would become a Class 4 felony if committed while wearing a mask and subject to up to four years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 13 Dec 2017.

Issue(s): face coverings, riot

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Illinois

HB 2939: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. The bill requires public universities and community colleges to adopt a policy prohibiting and subjecting to sanction any “protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity” on campus. Additionally, the bill requires administrators to suspend for at least one year or expel any student who is twice “found responsible for infringing on the expressive rights of others,” such as through a protest of a campus speaker. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Feb 2017.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Iowa

SF 2222: Heightened penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would prohibit persons from standing on Iowa highways with the intention of blocking traffic. The bill, which sponsors say is designed to target disruptive highway protests, provides that a person "shall not loiter, or place or cause to be placed any obstruction" on a highway "with the intention of blocking the normal and reasonable movement of motor vehicle traffic." Individuals who do so may be charged with a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,875 fine. A second offense is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years' imprisonment and a $6,250 fine; a third offense is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine. The bill was originally introduced in March 2017 as SF 426. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Mar 2017.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Kentucky

HB 53: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would eliminate all liability for drivers who injure or kill a protester who is blocking traffic. The bill creates a new Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, for interfering with traffic on a public road during a protest for which a permit has not been granted. Under the bill, a motorist who injures or kills an individual who is interfering with traffic during such an event cannot be held criminally or civilly liable, unless the action was intentional. The bill, prefiled as BR 305 on October 24, 2017, also prohibits the wearing of face coverings and bearing of weapons near a public protest. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): driver immunity, face coverings, weapons

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Louisiana

HB 727: Conspiracy charges for planned protests near "critical infrastructure"

Would create a new crime of “conspiracy to engage in unauthorized entry” of a critical infrastructure facility. Under the bill, two or more people who “conspire,” or plan, to enter onto infrastructure property without authorization may each be punished with up to five years in prison with or without hard labor and a fine of up to $10,000. Accordingly, individuals who plan to hold a peaceful protest on infrastructure property could be prosecuted. If their plan would have "damage[

d]" or "disrupted" the facility’s operations, they may each be subject to between six and twenty years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The bill also dramatically broadens the definition of “critical infrastructure” to explicitly include “pipelines” as well as “any site where the construction or improvement of any facility or structure” is taking place, in addition to “any and all structures, equipment, or other immovable or movable property located within or upon” infrastructure facilities. The bill’s broadened definition could encompass, for instance, construction sites where a pipeline is planned. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 26 Mar 2018; Approved by House 12 April 2018

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Massachusetts

HB 916: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would provide for harsh new penalties for individuals who impede traffic in the course of a protest or demonstration. The bill creates a broad offense of intentionally blocking, obstructing, impeding or otherwise interfering with the “normal and reasonable movement of vehicular or pedestrian traffic” on a public street or highway, punishable by up to $5,000 and a year in jail. Under the bill, police may arrest without a warrant any person they have probable cause to believe has unlawfully impeded traffic. The bill further makes any person convicted of unlawfully impeding traffic liable for the costs incurred by public and/or private emergency services in responding to the incident. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 30 Jun 2017.

Issue(s): security costs, traffic interference

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Michigan

SB 350: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. The bill requires community and public colleges to prohibit and subject to sanction any “protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity” on campus. The bill requires that college administrators suspend for at least one year or expel any student who is twice “found responsible for infringing on the expressive rights of others,” for instance through a protest or demonstration. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 May 2017.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Minnesota

HF 3693: New penalties for "critical infrastructure" protesters and their supporters

Would create new civil liability for protesters on infrastructure property, as well as vicarious liability for any individual or organization who supports them. The bill would make someone who trespasses on property containing a "critical public service facility, utility, or pipeline" liable for any damages to persons or property, and any person or entity that "recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with them" vicariously liable for such damages. Under Minnesota law, a person who trespasses on infrastructure property is guilty of a gross misdemeanor; the bill would make anyone who "recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with" a trespasser likewise guilty of a gross misdemeanor, which is punishable by one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. If the person trespasses "with the intent to significantly disrupt the operation of or the provision of services" by the facility, the bill would make anyone who "recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with" the trespasser guilty of a felony and subject to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The phrase "significantly disrupt" could be construed to encompass peaceful protests that block access to infrastructure, for instance, which under Minnesota law is broadly defined to include bus stations and bridges. The broad terms used in the vicarious liability provisions could even be construed to include aiding a protester by providing them with water or medical assistance. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Mar 2018.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Minnesota

HF 1066/SF 918: Heightened penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would heighten penalties for any individual who “interferes with, obstructs, or renders dangerous for passage” any public highway or any right-of-way within airport property. According to the bill, such interference or obstruction is classified as a public nuisance and a gross misdemeanor, punishable by a $3,000 fine and one year of jail time. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Feb 2017.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Minnesota

HF 322/SF 679: Charging protesters for the cost of responding to a protest

Would allow the state to sue protesters and charge them for the costs of policing a public assembly. The bill gives state agencies, cities, and counties the authority to bring civil lawsuits against people convicted of unlawful assembly or public nuisance. The lawsuits could seek the full cost of responding to the unlawful assembly, including officer time, law enforcement helicopters, and administrative expenses. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Feb 2017.

Issue(s): security costs

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Missouri

HB 2423: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would expand the state's 2015 "Campus Free Expression Act," which banned so-called campus "free speech zones," to include provisions requiring universities to impose specific, mandatory penalties on certain campus protesters. The bill provides that any student who is twice found responsible for "infringing upon the expressive rights of others" should be suspended for at least one year or expelled. The bill also calls for a "range of disciplinary sanctions" to be imposed on anyone under the university's jurisdiction who "materially and substantially interferes with the free expression of others." (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Feb 2018.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Missouri

HB 2145: Expanded definition for “unlawful assembly” and new penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would broadly define an “unlawful assembly” as two or more people who meet “for the purpose of violating any of the criminal laws” of Missouri or the U.S. The bill also creates a new crime of “unlawful traffic interference” that encompasses walking, sitting, standing, lying down, or placing an object on any public roadway with the intention of impeding traffic. The bill provides that commission of “unlawful traffic interference” while participating in an “unlawful assembly” is a Class D felony, which is subject to up to seven years in prison. The bill was originally introduced on February 2, 2017 as HB 826. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Missouri

SB 813: Heightened penalties for protesters who block highways

Would impose steeper penalties, including jail time, for protesters who block highways or emergency medical vehicles. The bill makes the offense of "peace disturbance" by obstructing traffic--already a Class B misdemeanor under Missouri law--a Class A misdemeanor on first offense if occurring on an interstate highway or thruway of an emergency medical services vehicle. Commission of the offense is subject to an automatic fine of up to $5,000 or 7-30 days in jail. The bill would also make offenders civilly liable to any person harmed, for monetary damages. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Missouri

HB 1259: Heightened penalties for blocking traffic

Would criminalize protests that block traffic as "unlawful traffic interference" and provide for harsh penalties. Under the bill, a person's intentional blocking of traffic on a public street or highway, whether with her body or an object, is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the offense is repeated, or takes place on an interstate highway, it may be charged as a Class E felony. If the offense is committed while the person is part of an "unlawful assembly" (defined as "two or more persons who meet for the purpose of violating any of the criminal laws" of Missouri or the US), it is a Class D felony, punishable by up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Dec 2017.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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North Carolina

HB 330: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would eliminate civil liability for the driver of an automobile who hits or otherwise injures a person participating in a protest or demonstration, if the person was blocking traffic in a public street or highway and did not have a permit to do so, and if the driver was exercising “due care.” Civil liability is still available to the injured party if the driver acted intentionally. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 13 Mar 2017; Approved by House 27 April

Issue(s): driver immunity

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North Carolina

SB 229: Heightened penalties for threats against former officials

Would substantially increase penalties for threats and assaults against former North Carolina officials on account of the official’s performance. The bill extends by one year the term of office of former executive, legislative, and court officials for the purpose of criminal provisions related to assaults and threats made against officials that are in office. Accordingly, threatening to inflict serious injury on a former official would be classified as a Class I felony – rather than a misdemeanor – for a period of one year after the official’s term in office. The offense would be subject to up to two years in prison. The bill was sponsored by State Senator Dan Bishop, who had pledged to introduce such legislation after an incident over Inauguration weekend in which protesters shouted at a former North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, in Washington, D.C. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Mar 2017.

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Ohio

SB 250: New penalties for protests near "critical infrastructure"

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure by expanding the definitions of "criminal trespass" and "criminal mischief." Entering and remaining on marked or fenced-off property that contains a "critical infrastructure facility" would be criminal trespass under the bill and could be charged as a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Doing so with the purpose of tampering with or harming the facility would constitute aggravated trespass, a third degree felony; knowingly tampering with the facility would constitute "criminal mischief" and a first degree felony--punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine. "Critical infrastructure facility" is expansively defined to encompass oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities among many others. The bill also imposes fines on organizations found to be complicit in the trespass or mischief offenses, and imposes civil liability for damage caused by trespass on a critical infrastructure facility. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 24 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): damage costs, infrastructure, trespass

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Ohio

HB 423: Harsh penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would broadly prohibit the wearing of masks or other disguises in certain circumstances during protests. The bill criminalizes the wearing of a mask or disguise to intentionally "obstruct the execution of the law," "to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt" a person who is performing a legal duty, or to prevent a person from exercising rights granted to them by the Constitution or laws of Ohio (such as the right to assemble). Under the bill, commission of "masked intimidation" as defined by any of the above would be a first degree misdemeanor, subject to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to its sponsors, the bill originated out of concerns about violent confrontations caused by masked protesters. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Nov 2017.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Pennsylvania

SB 754: Charging protesters for the costs of responding to a protest

Would make individual protesters potentially liable for “public safety response costs” incurred by the state or “political subdivision” during a protest or rally. The bill allows local authorities to seek restitution from protesters convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the course of a protest or demonstration, in order to pay for the costs of responding to the event. Such costs could include overtime for police officers and emergency medical services, as well as “related legal, administrative, and court expenses.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 16 Aug 2017.

Issue(s): security costs

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Pennsylvania

SB 652: Heightened penalties for protests near “critical infrastructure”

Would heighten potential penalties for protests around “critical infrastructure” by providing for the crime of “criminal trespass.” Under the bill, it is a felony to trespass in a “critical infrastructure facility,” which is broadly defined to include natural gas facilities and pipelines as well as cell phone towers, telephone poles, and railroad tracks that are fenced off or posted as no-entry areas. The bill makes knowingly entering or trying to enter such an area a second-degree felony punishable by up to one year in prison and a minimum $5,000 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 25 Apr 2017.

Issue(s): infrastructure, trespass

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Virginia

HB 1601: Banning protests by members of domestic terrorist groups

Would newly define and designate “domestic terrorist organizations,” and bar their members from assembling in groups of three or more. The bill broadly defines an “act of domestic terrorism,” in part echoing the state’s definition of a hate crime. The bill would provide for state authorities to designate as a "domestic terrorist organization" an identifiable group that aims to commit an act of domestic terrorism or whose members individually or collectively have attempted to commit an act of domestic terrorism. According to the bill, members of a designated domestic terrorist organization are prohibited from assembling in groups of three or more persons. The bill provides that such an assembly is unlawful, and any individual who participates in such an “unlawful assembly” (whether a member or not) could be charged with a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If an individual carries a firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon while participating in such an “unlawful assembly” of domestic terrorist group members, they are subject to a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which helped draft the bill, indicated that it was prompted by the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on August 12. Critics of the bill have noted that the broad language of the bill could allow authorities to target minority communities who have “unpopular beliefs.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 19 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): terrorism

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Washington

SB 5941: New penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would prohibit a person from “wearing a mask, hood, or device where any portion of the face is covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer” when they are on public or state-owned property – including, e.g., during a protest. Under the bill, commission of this offense is punishable as a gross misdemeanor. State Senator Jim Honeyford said he sponsored this bill in response to vandalism and violence that he believes occurs “under the guise of political speech,” that threatens citizens’ “safety and welfare.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 May 2017; reintroduced 8 January, 2018.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Washington

SB 5009: Heightened penalties for protests that block traffic and interfere with “economic activities”

Would target protests that disrupt roadways, railroads, and other “legally permitted economic activities.” The bill heightens penalties for illegal actions that aim to create economic harm by impeding legally-permitted economic activities. According to the bill, if a court finds that the perpetrator of another offense intended to cause economic disruption, his or her sentence can be extended 60 days for a misdemeanor, six months for a gross misdemeanor, and 12 months for a felony. The bill provides that those who fund or sponsor such actions can be charged as accomplices. The state senator who sponsored the bill indicated in November 2016 that it was drafted to respond to protests aimed at disrupting economic activities, which he deemed tantamount to “economic terrorism.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 15 Dec 2016; reintroduced 8 January, 2018.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Wisconsin

AB 395/SB 303: Expanded definition of “riot”

As originally introduced, Assembly Bill 395 would have newly defined a “riot” under Wisconsin law and provided for heavy criminal penalties for participants in a riot. The introduced bill broadly defined “riot” as a “public disturbance” including an act or threat of violence among an assembly of three or more people that “constitutes a clear and present danger” of damage to persons or property. Accordingly, under the introduced bill, individuals in a gathering where a violent or destructive incident took place could be charged with participation in a riot, classified as a Class I felony punishable by three and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The bill was amended in late 2017, revising and narrowing the offense of "participation in a riot" to require individual intent: Under the amended bill, it is a Class I felony to "intentionally" commit or threaten to commit an act of violence that "constitutes a clear and present danger" of damage to persons or property, while engaging in a "public disturbance" with at least three people. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 19 Jun 2017.

Issue(s): riot

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Wisconsin

AB 396/SB 304: New penalties for blocking traffic during a riot

Would create a new criminal offense of blocking a public or private thoroughfare or access to a private or public building while participating in a riot (as defined and penalized in AB 395). The bill was amended in late 2017 to add elements of individual intent; under the amended version, it is a Class H felony to "intentionally" commit or threaten to commit an act of violence that "constitutes a clear and present danger" of damage to persons or property, while blocking a thoroughfare or access point as part of a "public disturbance" with at least three people. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 19 Jun 2017.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference

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Wisconsin

AB 397/SB 305: New penalties for carrying a weapon during a riot

Would impose new penalties for participation in a riot (as defined and penalized in AB 395) while carrying a dangerous weapon. Doing so is classified as a Class G felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The bill was amended in late 2017 to add elements of individual intent: Under the revised bill, it is a Class G felony to "knowingly use a dangerous weapon" and "intentionally" commit or threaten to commit an act of violence that "constitutes a clear and present danger" of damage to persons or property, while engaging in a "public disturbance" with at least three people. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 19 Jun 2017.

Issue(s): riot, weapons

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Wisconsin

AB 299: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would impose mandatory disciplinary measures on student protesters in certain cases. The bill requires that students who engage in “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud, or other disorderly conduct that interferes with the free expression of others” on Wisconsin college or university campuses be compelled to attend a mandatory disciplinary hearing. The bill also requires campus authorities to suspend for a minimum of one semester or expel a student who interferes more than once with another’s free speech, for instance by protesting a controversial campus speaker. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 5 May 2017; Approved by Assembly 21 June 2017

Issue(s): campus speech

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For more information about the Tracker, contact Elly Page at EPage@icnl.org.