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 peaceful assembly. For information about our methodology, click here.

36 states have
considered
106 bills
16 enacted 2 enacted with
improvements
20 pending 68 defeated or
expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Nov. 6, 2019 (South Dakota), Oct. 24, 2019 (Kentucky), Oct. 15, 2019 (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin)
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US Federal

DOT Legislative Proposal: New federal criminal penalties for protests near pipelines

In its proposed congressional reauthorization of pipeline safety programs, the Department of Transportation included expanded criminal penalties that could be applied to protests near gas and oil pipelines. The proposal would newly criminalize under federal law "vandalizing, tampering with, impeding the operation of, disrupting the operation of, or inhibiting the operation of" a pipeline or a pipeline construction site. The offense would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and/or a steep fine: up to $250,000 for an individual, or $500,000 for an organization. Any "attempt" or "conspiracy" to commit the offense would likewise be subject to a 20-year prison sentence. Accordingly, individuals as well as organizations that participate in a protest or engage in the planning of a protest deemed to "inhibit" a pipeline construction site could face lengthy prison sentences and/or steep fines. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Jun 2019.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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California

AB 1358: New restrictions on campus protests

Would impose new limits on protests at public and private institutions of higher education. The bill would require all institutions of higher education in the state to adopt a policy prohibiting protests and demonstrations that “material and substantially infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity” and make protesters involved in such assemblies “subject to sanction.” As a result, protests in public areas of campus that, for instance, made it difficult to hear a speech, would be banned and its participants liable to penalties. This behavior would be subject to a “range of disciplinary sanctions,” including “suspensions, firings, and expulsions.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Feb 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Illinois

HB 2280: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. Like HB 2939, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, HB 2280 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 8 Feb 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Illinois

HB 1633: New penalties for protests near critical infrastructure

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure that involve trespassing onto infrastructure property. Under the bill, knowingly trespassing to a critical infrastructure facility is a Class 4 felony, punishable by $1,000 and 3 years in prison. Aggravated criminal trespass to a critical infrastructure facility--defined as trespass with intent to vandalize, deface, or tamper with the facility--is a Class 3 felony punishable by $10,000 and 10 years in prison. The bill would also create a broadly-defined new offense, “criminal damage to a critical infrastructure facility,” which includes knowingly vandalizing, defacing, or tampering with critical infrastructure and does not require actual damage. The offense is a Class 1 felony, punishable by $100,000 and 15 years in prison. An individual convicted of any of the offenses is also civilly liable for money damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees to the owner of the property, for any damage sustained. The bill newly defines “critical infrastructure facility” under Illinois law to include a range of oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities that are fenced off or posted. As introduced, the bill also provided that an organization found to have conspired with an individual to commit any of above offenses would be liable for a fine of at least ten times the minimum fine authorized for the individual, however these provisions were removed by an amendment. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 31 Jan 2019; Approved by House 11 April 2019

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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Kentucky

BR 204: New penalties for protests near pipelines and other infrastructure

Would create new potential criminal and civil penalties for protests around oil or gas pipelines and other infrastructure facilities. Like HB 238, introduced in the 2019 session, prefiled Bill Request 204 amends the definition of “key infrastructure assets" under Kentucky law to include “natural gas or petroleum pipelines.” Encompassed facilities and properties designated “key infrastructure assets” are not limited to areas that are fenced off or posted by “no entry” signs. Trespass onto "key infrastructure assets" is a Class B misdemeanor for the first offense (up to three months in jail) and a Class A misdemeanor for subsequent offenses (up to one year in jail). The bill creates a new offense for for a person who “intentionally or wantonly... tampers with, impedes, or inhibits operations of a key infrastructure asset.” This conduct would comprise “criminal mischief in the first degree”--a Class D felony, which under Kentucky law can be punished by up to five years in prison. A protest that “impeded” access to a pipeline by blocking a road, or one that “inhibited” the operation of a pipeline by blocking pipeline construction or repair equipment, could presumably fall under this definition. The bill also provides that any "person" (which under Kentucky law could include an organization) may be civilly liable if they "knowingly compensate[] or remunerate[]" another person to commit criminal mischief on a key infrastructure asset. The damages include actual damages to personal or real property “caused by the crime” as well as punitive damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

Status: pending

Introduced 29 Aug 2019; Prefiled on August 29, 2019

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Massachusetts

HB 1428: New penalties for protests that block roads

Would penalize “any person who intentionally blocks or prevents access to a public roadway or highway while protesting with the express purpose of preventing passage of others.” Under the bill, anyone who intentionally blocked a public road in the course of a protest could be sentenced to up to ten years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

HB 3284: New criminal liability for deaths during protests

Would create the new criminal offense of “manslaughter caused by reckless disregard of life while protesting or blocking highway or roadway access.” The offense would be added to the definition of “manslaughter” under Massachusetts law. Accordingly, if organizers led a protest onto a road and a protester was hit by a car, e.g., the organizers could potentially be held liable for manslaughter under the bill. The offense would be punishable by up to twenty years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

HD 2369: Prohibition on masked demonstrations

Would compel the immediate dispersal of a demonstration or other assembly of people wearing masks or other disguises. The bill provides that if a group of five or more individuals who are "masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration" assemble together, authorities should command them to disperse. If the assembly does not immediately disperse, they are deemed a riot or unlawful assembly and the authorities can compel anyone present to help "suppress" the assembly and arrest those participating. The bill makes no exception for religious or festive attire. Nor does it require any malicious intent by those assembling or conduct beyond wearing masks and assembling in a group. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): face coverings, riot

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Michigan

HB 4436: New limits on campus protests

Would impose new limits on protests at public colleges and universities. The bill would require all public institutions of higher education to adopt a policy prohibiting protests and demonstrations that “substantially and materially infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity,” and make protesters involved in such assemblies "subject to sanction." As a result, protests in public areas of campus that, for instance, made it difficult to hear a speech, would be banned and its participants liable to penalties. The policy would apply not only to students and faculty but any other person “lawfully present on campus.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Apr 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Missouri

SB 293: New penalties for protests near critical infrastructure

Would heighten potential penalties for protests near oil or gas pipelines and other infrastructure facilities, including those under construction. The bill creates the offense of "willful critical infrastructure trespass," defined as willfully entering property containing a critical infrastructure facility or the construction site of such a facility, without permission of the property's owner or lawful occupant. Under the bill, willful critical infrastructure trespass is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. A person who willfully trespasses with the intent to "impede or inhibit" the infrastructure facility or construction site is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,000. The bill also provides that an organization found to be a "conspirator" with anyone convicted of the above offenses is liable to a fine of ten times that levied on the individual. "Critical infrastructure facility" is broadly defined and among many other things includes oil and gas pipelines, refineries, water treatment plants, cell phone towers, and railroad tracks--"whether under construction or operational." (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 24 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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New Jersey

A 5731: Mandatory penalties for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. The bill requires all public institutions of higher education to adopt a policy that bars members of the campus community from engaging in conduct that “materially and substantially disrupts another person’s expressive activity or infringes on the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity.” Under the required policy, any member of the campus community that has twice materially and substantially disrupted the expressive rights of others--such as by protesting a controversial speaker--must be given a minimum punishment of a one-term suspension. If a lesser punishment is imposed, the institution has to submit an explanation in writing to the institution’s Committee on Free Expression. The bill also requires that “a range of disciplinary sanctions” be imposed for anyone under the jurisdiction of the institution who materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 23 Aug 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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New Jersey

AB 2853: Expanded definition of "riot"

Would expand the definition of "riot" to apply to individuals in a group whose disorderly conduct results in property damage. Under the bill, anyone who participates in “disorderly conduct” in a group of four or more may be charged with rioting, if anyone in the group causes any damage to property or other monetary loss. “Disorderly conduct” is broadly defined under New Jersey law, to include any “tumultuous behavior” that causes public annoyance—even swearing loudly. If the damage caused by anyone in the group costs $2,000 or more, anyone in the group can be charged with a third-degree crime, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $15,000. According to the bill, individuals convicted under the riot provisions related to property damage must also reimburse the property owner or State of New Jersey for the damages or loss incurred. The same bill was initially introduced in May 2017 as AB 4777. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Feb 2018.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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North Carolina

HB 966: Limitations on teachers' ability to protest

Would restrict public school teachers' ability to use personal leave in order to protest. The provisions, proposed as part of a budget package, would prohibit schools from granting teachers leave on a school day unless they could confirm that a substitute teacher was available. Lawmakers introduced the provisions ahead of a Wednesday, May 1 rally expected to be attended by thousands of teachers from across the state, to protest for increased education funding. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 26 Apr 2019.

Issue(s): strikes

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Ohio

HB 362: New penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would broadly prohibit the wearing of masks or other disguises in certain circumstances during protests. Like HB 423, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, 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 8 Oct 2019.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Ohio

SB 33: 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." Like SB 250, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, SB 33 provides that entering and remaining on marked or fenced-off property that contains a "critical infrastructure facility" is criminal trespass and 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" the facility would constitute aggravated trespass, a third degree felony--punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Knowingly, "improperly tampering" with the facility would constitute "criminal mischief," likewise a third degree felony. "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 guilty of "complicity" in the trespass or mischief offenses, in the amount of ten times the maximum fine that can be imposed on an individual. Ohio law defines "complicity" to include soliciting, procuring, aiding, abetting, or conspiring with another to commit an offense. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Feb 2019; Approved by Senate 1 May 2019

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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Oklahoma

SB 592: Steep fee for protesting at the state capitol

Would require any group of 100 or more people that engage in a protest at the Oklahoma capitol building to post a $50,000 bond to the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority "to offset the cost of additional security, cleanup and repairs." The bill was prefiled and is scheduled to be introduced on February 4, 2019, when the state's legislative session begins. The bill follows the walkout and multi-day protest by thousands of Oklahoma's teachers at the capitol in April 2018. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 18 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): damage costs, security costs, strikes

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Pennsylvania

SB 887: New penalties for protests near "critical infrastructure"

Would heighten potential penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other critical infrastructure by creating a new offense of "critical infrastructure facility trespass.” According to the bill, entering or merely attempting to enter property containing a critical infrastructure facility, without permission of the property owner, would be a third degree felony punishable by up to one year in prison; remaining at the facility after being ordered to leave would be a second degree felony, likewise punishable by up to one year in prison. Entering a critical infrastructure facility with the intent to “damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment or impede or inhibit operations of the facility,” would be a second degree felony punishable by imprisonment for up to one year. It would also be a second degree felony, subject to one year’s imprisonment, to “conspire[] with another person to commit” any of the above offences. An individual who commits any of the offenses a second time would face penalties of the next felony degree. The law newly defines “critical infrastructure facility” under Pennsylvania law to include a broad range of oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities, such as gas and oil pipelines “buried or above ground.” The definition of “critical infrastructure facility” applies to facilities “constructed or under construction,” and includes “equipment and machinery, regardless of whether stored on location or at a storage yard, to the extent that it is used to construct a critical infrastructure facility.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 7 Oct 2019.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Pennsylvania

SB 323: 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 a political subdivision during a protest or demonstration. Like SB 176, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, 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 outlays for police, fire department, and medical services, as well as “related legal, administrative, and court expenses.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Feb 2019.

Issue(s): security costs

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South Carolina

SB 33: 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 “[p]rotests and demonstrations that materially and substantially 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. The bill also waives South Carolina's immunity from federal lawsuits related to the law, such that a speaker or student group who feels the law is insufficiently enforced could sue the state and/or university in federal or state court. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Wisconsin

AB 444: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would impose mandatory disciplinary measures on student protesters in certain cases. The bill requires that the University of Wisconsin's Board of Regents adopt a policy that includes a range of disciplinary sanctions for anyone under an institution’s jurisdiction who engages in “violent or other disorderly conduct that materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others.” The bill further requires universities in the state system to suspend for at least one semester any student “who has twice been found responsible for interfering with the expressive rights of others.” If a student is found responsible for such interference a third time, they must be expelled. As a result, rowdy protests in public areas of campus that, for instance, made it difficult to hear a speech, would be banned and its participants liable to penalties. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 13 Sep 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Wisconsin

AB 426: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Would create new potential penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other property of "energy providers." The bill expands existing law related to trespass and property damage to broadly include the property of all companies in the oil and gas industry. Under the bill, trespass onto the property of any “company that operates a gas, oil, petroleum, refined petroleum product, renewable fuel, water, or chemical generation, storage, transportation, or delivery system" would be a Class H felony, punishable by six years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Accordingly, protests in a range of locations could be covered, whether on land containing a pipeline or the corporate headquarters of an oil company. Any damage to property of such a company, with the intent to "cause substantial interruption or impairment of any service or good" provided by the company, would likewise be a Class H felony under the bill. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Sep 2019; Approved by Assembly 11 October 2019

Issue(s): infrastructure, trespass

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