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.

45 states have
considered
202 bills
26 enacted 65 pending

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Mar. 1, 2021 (Utah), Feb. 26, 2021 (Missouri), Feb. 25, 2021 (Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada)
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65 entries found matching the provided filters.
Alabama

HB 445: Expanded definition of "riot," "incitement to riot," and new penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would redefine “riot” under Alabama law as a “tumultuous disturbance” in public by five or more assembled people, acting with common intent, that creates a “grave danger” of substantial property damage or serious injury or that “substantially obstructs” a government function. This definition is broad enough to cover loud but peaceful protests, as well as raucous tailgate parties. Current Alabama law, by contrast, requires that a person individually engage in “violent conduct” as part of a group in order to have committed “riot.” Knowingly participating in a “riot” is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by one year in jail and a $6,000 fine. The bill provides that if any property damage or injuries occur, then anyone participating in the group is guilty of “aggravated riot,” a new Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill expands the current definition of “incitement to riot” under Alabama law to include a person who “funds” or “otherwise aids or abets” another person to engage in a “riot.” Given the bill’s broad definition of “riot,” the redefined definition of “incitement” could cover people only tangentially associated with a protest, such as individuals who hand out bottles of water to protesters. The bill creates a rebuttable presumption against granting bail to anyone charged with “riot” or “aggravated riot;” it also adds mandatory minimum prison sentences for “riot,” “aggravated riot,” and “incitement to riot,” and requires that anyone convicted pay restitution for any property damage incurred by the “riot.” The bill creates a new offense of unlawful traffic interference for anyone who, with the intent to impede traffic, walks, sits, or lies to block passage of a vehicle on a public or interstate highway. The first offense is a Class A misdemeanor and a second offence (or if property is damaged or someone is injured) is a Class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 24 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, riot, traffic interference

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Alabama

SB 155: New justification for using deadly force near a "riot"

Would expand the instances in which a person may lawfully use deadly force, to include areas near a "riot." Under current Alabama law, a person may use deadly force on their property if they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent someone from trespassing and either committing a violent act against the person, or arson. The bill would also allow a person to use deadly force to prevent trespass if there is an "active riot" within 500 feet of the premises and the person reasonably believes it is necessary to use such force to prevent criminal mischief or burglary. If enacted, the bill would increase the likelihood of violence if residents or business owners become alarmed by raucous but peaceful protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): riot, trespass, stand your ground

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Alabama

HB 133: Expanded definition of “riot” and “incitement to riot,” and new penalties for protesters who deface monuments

Would redefine “riot” under Alabama law as a “tumultuous disturbance” in public by five or more assembled people, acting with common intent, that creates a “grave danger” of substantial property damage or serious injury or that “substantially obstructs” a government function. This definition is broad enough to cover loud but peaceful protests, as well as raucous tailgate parties. Current Alabama law, by contrast, requires that a person individually engage in “violent conduct” as part of a group in order to have committed “riot.” Knowingly participating in a “riot” is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by one year in jail and a $6,000 fine. The bill provides that if any property damage or injuries occur, then anyone participating in the group is guilty of “aggravated riot,” a new Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill expands the current definition of “incitement to riot” under Alabama law to include a person who “funds” or “otherwise aids or abets” another person to engage in a “riot.” Given the bill’s broad definition of “riot,” the redefined definition of “incitement” could cover people only tangentially associated with a protest, such as individuals who hand out bottles of water to protesters. The bill creates a rebuttable presumption against granting bail to anyone charged with “riot” or “aggravated riot;” it also adds mandatory minimum prison sentences for “riot,” “aggravated riot,” and “incitement to riot,” and requires that anyone convicted pay restitution for any property damage incurred by the “riot.” The bill would create a new Class D felony offense, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, for anyone who intentionally “mars, marks,” or “defaces” a public monument, even if the marks are only “temporary.” Doing so in the course of a “riot” or “unlawful assembly” would be a Class C felony. Under the bill, “riot,” “aggravated riot,” “incitement to riot,” and “damaging a public monument,” are all to be considered “violent offences” for the purpose of sentencing. Finally, the bill would disqualify anyone convicted of “riot,” “aggravated riot,” or “incitement to riot” from holding public office. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 26 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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Arizona

SB 1784: Heightened penalties for “riot,” “unlawful assembly,” and protests that block traffic

Would elevate the offence of “riot” from a Class 5 to a Class 4 felony, punishable by three years in prison. Arizona defines “riot” broadly under existing law, to include joining two or more other people and recklessly using or threatening to use force that “disturbs the public peace.” The bill also increases the penalty for “interfering” with traffic on a public thoroughfare while engaged in an “unlawful assembly” or “riot.” The offense, which is otherwise a misdemeanor, would be a Class 6 felony punishable by up to two year in prison. Finally, the bill requires that anyone convicted of “unlawful assembly,” a Class 1 misdemeanor, pay “at least” $500 in fines. Arizona law defines “unlawful assembly” as joining a group of two or more people with intent to engage in conduct constituting “riot,” or being present at such a group, knowingly remaining, and refusing to disperse. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference

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Arizona

HB 2485: New Penalties for “Violent Or Disorderly Assembly” and for Protesters Who Block Traffic or "Deface" Monuments

Would create a broad new felony offense, “violent or disorderly assembly,” for any person who joins a group of six or more people knowing that the group has one of a number of objectives—these include creating “an immediate danger” of property damage or personal injury; “substantially obstructing” government services; or “disturbing any person in the enjoyment of a legal right”—if one person in the group then commits an “overt act” that furthers any of those objectives. The broad definition only requires action by one person in a protest; individuals could be charged with “violent or disorderly assembly” without doing anything other than gathering. The new offense is a Class 6 felony, punishable by one year in prison. The bill instates a mandatory, 12-hour detention for anyone arrested for the “violent or disorderly assembly,” and requires that anyone convicted of the offense be barred from receiving any public benefits—including welfare or scholarships—or employment by a state or local entity. The bill makes “obstructing” a street or highway a Class 6 felony if it occurs while committing “violent or disorderly assembly.” The bill would similarly heighten the penalty for unintentional property damage occurring during a protest, providing that “reckless” damage to property in the amount of $250-$1,000 is a Class 6 felony if it occurs while committing “violent or disorderly assembly.” Using fireworks, “defacing” a monument or other public memorial, or being “indecent” or “offensive to the senses,” are all elevated to a Class 6 felony if done while committing “violent or disorderly assembly.” The bill would also add “violent or disorderly assembly” to the underlying crimes for Arizona’s anti-racketeering statute. As a result, an participating in or being near a protest that is deemed a “violent or disorderly assembly” could lead to prosecution on felony racketeering charges. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): conspiracy, traffic interference, limit on public benefits

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Arizona

HB 2309: New penalties for “violent or disorderly assembly” and for protesters who block traffic or "deface" monuments

Would create a new felony offense, “violent or disorderly assembly,” for any person who causes any property damage or personal injury with a group of seven other people, with the intent to engage in a “riot” or an “unlawful assembly.” The new offense is a Class 6 felony, punishable by one year in jail. The bill instates a mandatory, 12-hour detention for anyone arrested for the “violent or disorderly assembly,” and requires that anyone convicted of the offense be barred from obtaining public benefits or employment by a state or local entity. The bill would heighten the penalty for protesters who “recklessly interfere” with traffic on any “public thoroughfare,” or who, after receiving a warning, intentionally interfere with and prevent access to a government meeting or political campaign event. The bill provides that such interference is a Class 6 felony if it occurs while committing “violent or disorderly assembly.” The bill would similarly heighten the penalty for unintentional property damage occurring during a protest, providing that “reckless” damage to property in the amount of $250-$1,000 is a Class 6 felony if it occurs while committing “violent or disorderly assembly.” Likewise, using fireworks, or “defacing” a monument or other public memorial are both elevated to a Class 6 felony if done while committing “violent or disorderly assembly.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 15 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference, limit on public benefits

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Arkansas

HB 1508: New penalties for protesters on state property and those who disturb official meetings

Would create a new offense of “unlawful possession of state property” that could apply to peaceful protesters. Under the bill, if a person occupies a building or grounds of any state institution, including public universities, after they have been told to leave by a security officer or authorized employee, it is a misdemeanor punishable by at least 30 days and up to 6 months in prison and a $1,000 fine. The bill creates a new mandatory minimum sentence for “rioting” of 30 days in jail and restitution for any injury or damage as a result of the offense. Rioting is defined in Alabama to include engaging with two or more persons in "tumultuous" conduct that creates a “substantial risk” of “public alarm.” The bill also requires that a person convicted of inciting a riot pay restitution for any injury or damage as a result of the offense. It increases the penalty of disrupting a lawful assembly, procession, or meeting of persons to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The bill also creates a presumption against releasing a person who has been arrested for obstructing a highway or public passage, rioting, aggravated rioting, or inciting a riot within 12 hours of their arrest. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot, traffic interference

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Arkansas

HB 1321: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Would introduce harsh new penalties for protestors around gas and oil pipelines and other “critical infrastructure.” The bill broadly defines “critical infrastructure” to include a range of posted or fenced-off areas associated with natural gas and crude oil production, storage, and distribution, including above and belowground pipelines as well as pipeline construction sites and equipment. Under the bill, purposely entering or remaining on any “critical infrastructure” is a Class D felony, punishable by up to 6 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Separately, the bill provides that trespassing on property outside of a city or town, regardless of whether it is posted, is a Class D felony if the property is “critical infrastructure.” In nearly all other cases, trespass is a misdemeanor or minor violation. The bill also creates a felony offense for anyone who purposely and unlawfully “causes damage” to critical infrastructure. Any amount of “damage”—which the law does not define—is a Class B felony under the law, punishable by 20 years in prison and a $15,000 fine. If the bill were enacted, protesters who hold a peaceful sit-in at a pipeline construction site and paint protest slogans on construction material, for instance, could face lengthy prison sentences. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 27 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): infrastructure, trespass

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Connecticut

HB 6455: New penalty for protests that disturb the legislature

Would make it a Class D felony, punishable by at least one and up to 5 years in prison a $5,000 fine, to disrupt, disturb, or interfere with any proceeding of the General Assembly by making unreasonable noise, performing an act that disturbs or disrupts the proceeding, refusing to comply with an order of the police, or engaging in violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior or language. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 11 Feb 2021.

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Florida

SB 484/HB 1: Expanded definition of "riot" and new penalties for protesters

Would enlarge the legal definition of “riot,” a 3rd degree felony, to include any group of three or more individuals whose shared intent to engage in disorderly and violent conduct results in a “clear and present danger” of property damage or personal injury, or actual damage or injury. Notably, the new definition does not require that the individuals’ conduct be disorderly or violent, or that they commit any actual damage or injury. Under the bill, a “riot” consisting of ten or more people, or one that interferes with the movement of a vehicle, is automatically an “aggravated riot,” a new 2nd degree felony offense under the bill. As such, large groups of protesters or ones that block traffic, even temporarily, could face up to 15 years in prison. Under the bill, “incitement” or “encouragement” of a riot is a 3rd degree felony, punishable by 5 years in prison. The bill also creates a new criminal offense of “mob intimidation,” defined as a group of three or more people who act with a “common intent” to compel “or attempt to compel” another person to “do any act” or “assume or abandon a particular viewpoint.” The offense is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. The bill creates a new 3rd degree felony offense, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, for anyone who “willfully and maliciously defaces, injures, or otherwise damages by any means” statues, flags, paintings, displays, or other “memorials.” As “deface” is not defined, protesters who apply paint or graffiti to a monument in the course of a peaceful protest could face up to 5 years in prison. The bill could encourage violence against protesters, by creating a new affirmative defense in civil lawsuits for personal injury, death, or property damage, such that a defendant could avoid liability by establishing that the injury, death, or damage they committed “arose from” conduct by someone “acting in furtherance of a riot or unlawful assembly.” Finally, the bill creates a new civil right of action against a municipal government that fails to provide “reasonable” law enforcement protection during a riot or unlawful assembly, making them civilly liable for damages, including personal injury or property damage. These provisions, if enacted, could encourage municipal governments to adopt overly aggressive law enforcement responses to protests in order to avoid lawsuits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 6 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, driver immunity, police response, riot, traffic interference, state liability

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Georgia

SB 171: Restrictive permitting requirements, and heightened penalties for “unlawful assembly," blocking traffic, and defacing property

Would prohibits assemblies on public property that have not received a permit, seemingly banning all spontaneous, First Amendment-protected assemblies. Local permitting processes for assemblies on public property would require applicants to provide contact information for “individuals responsible for managing and maintaining order during the event" as well as an "emergency plan" addressing the "security resources" the organizer has devoted to the event. The bill expands the definition of "unlawful assembly" to include “two or more persons who harass or intimidate another person within any public accommodation.” “Harass or intimidate” is not defined, meaning a boisterous protest in a public park or a university could potentially be deemed an “unlawful assembly.” The bill would also bar anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from receiving state or local employment benefits. The bill increases the penalty for purposefully or recklessly obstructing any street or highway to a felony, punishable by at least one and up to five years in prison, and a fine of at least $1,000 and not more than $5,000, if the person convicted is part of an “unlawful assembly” and refuses an order of a police officer to remove an obstruction. The bill creates a new offense of “defacing, defiling, or abusing contemptuously” a state-owned or maintained monument or other structure during an “unlawful assembly”, which is punishable by a penalty of at least 1 year and up to 15 years in prison, or a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. As such, a protester who chalked a sidewalk near a monument during an assembly that was deemed to be “unlawful” could face up to 15 years in jail. Further, the bill expands the state’s “racketeering” provision to include soliciting someone to commit "unlawful assembly" or "riot," which is a felony punishable by 5 to 20 years in prison. Finally, the bill makes the governing authorities of a county or municipality civilly liable if they intentionally interfere with the ability of a law enforcement agency to provide reasonable law enforcement protection during an "unlawful assembly" or "riot." These provisions make it more likely that cities will aggressively police constitutionally-protected protests out of fear of costly liability if they are later deemed to be an "unlawful assembly". (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 11 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): security costs, riot, state liability, limit on public benefits

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Illinois

HB 3409: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters at public universities or community colleges in the state. The bill requires these public educational institutions to adopt a policy prohibiting and subjecting to sanction any "protests and demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity." Additionally, the bill requires administrators to suspend for at least one year any student who is twice found to be 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 22 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Indiana

HB 1205: Expanded definition of "riot" and host of new criminal penalties for protesters

Would broaden the definition of “riot” and raise the penalty for riot in certain circumstances. Indiana law defines “rioting” as engaging in “tumultuous conduct” while a member of an “unlawful assembly.” The bill expands the definition of “unlawful assembly,” to require only 3 people engaged in “tumultuous conduct.” The bill also amends the definition of “tumultuous conduct” to include conduct that results or is likely to result in the “obstruction of law enforcement or other governmental function.” As a result of these changes, someone in a 3-person, peaceful protest whose conduct is deemed “likely” to interfere with a government hearing, for instance, could be covered by the resulting “riot” statute. The bill also heightens the penalty for “riot” from a Class A misdemeanor to a Level 6 felony, punishable by up to 2.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, if committed by a person wearing a mask (such as a medical mask) or other face covering. The bill requires a mandatory 30-day sentence and restitution as penalties for all riot offenses. The bill heightens the penalty for “disorderly conduct,” a broadly defined offense that includes making “unreasonable noise,” if committed by a person in the same area as a “lawful or unlawful demonstration, protest, or assembly.” The offense would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. The bill would heighten the penalty for a person who damages or “defaces” property, as well, from a Class B misdemeanor to a Level 6 felony if committed by someone in the same “area” as a demonstration or protest. “Defaces” is not defined, and could include chalk and other temporary markings applied in the course of a protest. The bill also bars 24-hour protests on the grounds outside the state capitol, by making it a class A misdemeanor to “camp” in a number of places around the capitol building after being informed that camping is not allowed, either by signage or in person. “Camping” is defined as conduct between 10pm and 7am that includes laying down a blanket or using a piece of furniture. The bill would allow the state to seize any property that was used "to finance or facilitate the financing of a crime committed by a person while in an area where a lawful or unlawful demonstration, protest, or assembly was taking place." Finally, the bill would newly allow tort claims against government entities and officials for the failure to enforce the law “in connection with an unlawful assembly,” if the failure constitutes “gross negligence”—provisions that, if enacted, could encourage municipal and other local governments to adopt overly aggressive law enforcement responses to protests in order to avoid lawsuits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 14 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot, camping, state liability

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Indiana

SB 198: New penalties for funding protests, failing to leave an “unlawful assembly,” and violating protest-related curfew

Would create a new Class A misdemeanor, “financing an unlawful assembly,” punishable by up to one year in jail, for a person who gives funding or “anything of value” to another person, knowing that they intend to commit an offense while part of an “unlawful assembly” and intending to aid them. The offense is a Level 6 felony if the person provides funding for five or more people, and a Level 5 felony if the person provides funding for 10 or more people. Indiana law broadly defines “unlawful assembly” as an assembly of five or more persons whose common object is to commit an unlawful act, or a lawful act by unlawful means. A donor who provides funding or supplies to a group knowing that they intend to commit civil disobedience as part of an “unlawful assembly,” could face felony charges and up to six years in prison. The bill also authorizes the government to seize property that is used to finance or “facilitate” the financing of a crime committed by a person while part of an “unlawful assembly.” The bill creates a new Class B misdemeanor offense, “enabling riot,” for anyone who is present during the commission of a felony by a participant in an “unlawful assembly,” and who knows that the participant is committing a criminal offense, and fails to “immediately” either leave the location or report the offense to law enforcement. A journalist, for instance, who stays at the scene of a protest that is deemed an “unlawful assembly,” and does not immediately report unlawful behavior could face six months in jail for “enabling riot.” The bill newly authorizes the head of a county or city to declare a curfew upon receiving information about the “likelihood” of a “riot” or “unlawful assembly,” and creates a new Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, for failure to abide by curfew orders. The bill expands the attorney general’s concurrent jurisdiction with the prosecuting attorney to include prosecutions of any “criminal offense” committed by members of an “unlawful assembly.” As a result, the Indiana attorney general would be able to bring charges against protesters if the relevant local prosecutor declined to do so. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Jan 2021; Approved by Senate 16 February 2021

Issue(s): conspiracy, riot

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Indiana

SB 96: Expanded definition of "riot" and ban on protest camps on state property

Would redefine “rioting” as three or more people who “recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally” engage in “tumultuous” conduct, punishable by a minimum of 30 days in jail and up to one year in prison. “Tumultuous” conduct includes conduct that obstructs law enforcement or other governmental functions, or that is likely to result in substantial damage to property or bodily injury. The offense does not require actual property damage or violence, and could cover a small peaceful group of protesters that momentarily blocks a government vehicle. The bill also makes it a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, to “camp” in a number of places around the state capitol building after being informed that camping is not allowed, either by signage or in person. Camping is defined as conduct between 10pm and 7am that includes laying down a blanket or placing a piece of furniture on state property. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 7 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference, camping

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Indiana

SB 34: New penalties for unpermitted protests that block traffic, unlawful assemblies, and "riot" offenses

Would increase the penalty for obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic to a level 5 felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, if committed by "a person participating in a protest or demonstration” that is not authorized by a permit. The bill also newly penalizes as a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail, participants in an unlawful assembly in a place of public accommodation who make unreasonable noise and continue to do so after being asked to stop, or who disrupt a lawful gathering of persons. The bill enables the government to seize any “real or personal property” that is used to finance or facilitate a crime—including minor violations—committed by a person who is part of an unlawful assembly. It strips immunity from government officials who “fail to enforce the law in connection with an unlawful assembly, if the failure to enforce the law constitutes gross negligence,” opening up government officials to civil suits if they do not aggressively police protests. The bill bans a person convicted of rioting from holding state government employment, including elected office, and bars a person convicted of rioting from receiving a broad range of state and local benefits, including healthcare and educational benefits. Rioting in Indiana is defined broadly as a person who, as part of an unlawful assembly, recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally engages in “tumultuous” conduct. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 4 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference, state liability, limit on public benefits

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Iowa

SSB 1140: Heightened penalties for “riot,” “unlawful assembly,” protests that block traffic, and defacing monuments

Would elevate “riot” from an aggravated misdemeanor to a Class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $7,500 fine. Iowa law defines “riot” as a group of three or more people assembled “in a violent manner,” at least one of whom uses any unlawful force or violence against another person, or causes property damage. The bill would also elevate “unlawful assembly” from a simple misdemeanor to an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail and a $6,250 fine. Iowa law defines “unlawful assembly” as a group of three or more people, any of whom are acting “in a violent manner,” and who intend that any of them will commit an offense. Under the bill, it is a serious (rather than simple) misdemeanor, punishable by one year in jail and a $1,875 fine, to “obstruct” a sidewalk, street, or “other public way” with the intent to hinder its use by others. If an individual obstructs a sidewalk or street while “present during an unlawful assembly,” it is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by 2 years in jail and a $6,250 fine. If an individual obstructs a sidewalk or street while “present during a riot,” it is a Class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $7,500 fine. The bill also creates a new felony offense for intentionally defacing or altering public property, “including a monument or statue.” The offense is a Class D felony. The bill provides that a sentence for the offense must include restitution for any damage to the property. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot, traffic interference

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Iowa

HF 251: New penalties for protesters, including those who block roads, and immunity for drivers who injure them

Would create a new felony offense of “violent or disorderly assembly” that could cover peaceful protesters. The offense is defined to include a group of seven or more people that creates an immediate danger of property damage or personal injury, or that “substantially obstructs” government functions or services. Joining or remaining part of a “violent or disorderly assembly” is a Class D felony, punishable by at least one and up to five years in prison. If an individual traveled from another state to participate in a “violent or disorderly assembly,” it is a Class C felony, punishable by at least two and up to 10 years in prison. The bill provides for the termination of any state or local government employee who is convicted of engaging in a “violent or disorderly assembly.” The bill raises the penalty for unauthorized obstruction of any street, sidewalk, highway, or other public way, with intent to prevent or hinder its use by others. The bill changes the offense from a minor to a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. Under the bill, if the obstruction takes place during an “unlawful assembly,” it is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail. Iowa law defines “unlawful assembly” as a group of three or more people, at least one of whom is acting violently, gathered with intent that at least one of them will commit an infraction. If the obstruction takes place during a “riot,” it is a Class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Iowa defines “riot” as a group of three or more people assembled “in a violent manner” that “disturb[s]” other people, with any unlawful force by anyone in the group. The bill also creates new penalties for a person who performs any act “related to organizing, scheduling, or otherwise assembling” a group of people, knowing or with reason to know that they will intentionally obstruct a highway. Such a person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail. The bill establishes civil immunity for a driver who injures someone participating in an unpermitted protest or demonstration who is blocking a street or highway, as long as the driver was exercising “due care.” The bill would create a new felony offense for protesters who “damage,” “deface,” or otherwise “alter” any public property, including a public monument. “Deface” is not defined, and could include temporary chalk messages. The offense would be a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 27 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): conspiracy, driver immunity, riot, traffic interference

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Iowa

HF 430: Heightened penalties for protesters who block streets and sidewalks

Would raise the penalty for protesters who obstruct any street, sidewalk, highway, or other public way, with intent to prevent or hinder its use by others. The bill changes the offense from a minor to a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. Under the bill, if the obstruction takes place during an “unlawful assembly,” it is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail. Iowa law defines “unlawful assembly” as a group of three or more people, at least one of whom is acting violently, gathered with intent that at least one of them will commit an infraction. If the obstruction takes place during a “riot,” it is a Class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Iowa defines “riot” as a group of three or more people assembled “in a violent manner” that “disturb[s]” other people, with any unlawful force by anyone in the group. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 26 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference

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Kansas

SB 172: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Would create four new criminal offenses that could capture the conduct of peaceful protesters near pipelines. Under the bill, entering or remaining in a "critical infrastructure" facility, or on property containing such a facility if it is posted with signs or fenced off, is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Trespassing with intent to "vandalize, deface, or tamper with" a critical infrastructure facility, or to “impede or inhibit” its operations, is a Level 7 felony, punishable by approximately 2 years in prison. Actually, knowingly "vandalizing, defacing, or tampering with” the facility is a Level 6 felony, punishable by approximately 3 years in prison, and doing so with the intent to impede or inhibit the facility's operations is a Level 5 felony, punishable by approximately 4 years in prison. The bill provides that a person arrested or convicted of any of these offenses is civilly liable for “any damages to personal or real property.” Under the bill, any person or “entity” that provides compensation to someone to commit any of the above offenses may also be held civilly liable for any property damage or personal injury. Finally, the bill would amend Kansas’s RICO law, adding the trespass and damage offenses above to the underlying crimes that may be prosecuted under RICO. The bill creates a broad new definition of “critical infrastructure,” which includes among many other things “a portion of any belowground or aboveground oil, gas, hazardous liquid or chemical pipeline” or any storage, processing, or distribution facility for crude oil or natural gas. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Feb 2021.

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

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Kentucky

SB 211: Mandatory minimum penalties for numerous offenses associated with protests, and a ban on “camping” on state property

Would create mandatory penalties for participation in a “riot” and “incitement to riot,” including mandatory minimum prison sentences without parole or probation, a fine of $500-$5,000, and disqualification from public assistance benefits for 6 months to a year. Kentucky law broadly defines "riot" as a group of five or more people who disturb the public by "tumultuous and violent conduct" that creates "grave danger" of property damage or injury or "substantially obstructs law enforcement or other government function." The bill intensifies penalties for blocking traffic if it takes place during a "riot," providing that intentionally making a road or highway impassable or "prevent[ing] law enforcement officers from accessing an assembly, protest, demonstration, or other gathering” is a Class D felony if it occurs during a "riot;" the bill requires as punishment a minimum mandatory sentence of 4 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and disqualification from public benefits for one year. The bill also provides heightened penalties and mandatory minimum sentences for the offenses of resisting arrest, obstructing emergency responders, and failure to disperse, if they are committed during a “riot.” The bill bars 24-hour protests on certain state property, by making it a Class A misdemeanor to “camp” on state property that is not specifically designated for camping. “Camping” is defined as conduct between 10pm and 7am that includes laying down a blanket or using a piece of furniture. If “camping” occurs during a “riot,” the bill requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 months in jail without parole or probation, a $500 fine, and disqualification from public benefits for 6 months. The second or subsequent offense is a Class D felony, subject to a minimum sentence of 4 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and disqualification from public benefits for one year. The bill prohibits granting bail for at least 48 hours to anyone arrested of offenses including camping on state property, criminal mischief, obstructing an emergency responder, riot, and incitement to riot. The bill establishes a new legal justification for using lethal force during protests, creating a presumption that a person who uses force in self-defence had a "reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm" if they acted during a "riot." Finally, the bill would allow civil lawsuits against the government for failure to prevent damage to property, if authorities had “notice or good reason to believe” that a “riot” or “tumultuous assemblage” was going to take place and were “grossly negligent” in their response. If enacted, these provisions could encourage municipal and other local governments to adopt overly aggressive law enforcement responses to protests in order to avoid costly lawsuits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference, camping, state liability, stand your ground, limit on public benefits

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Kentucky

HB 164: New penalties for protests that disrupt lawful meetings, block traffic, occur overnight on state property, and for “riot” offenses

Would raise penalties for protests that disrupt or offend meetings of public officials. The penalty for “disrupting a meeting” is increased to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, if a person did “any act” “tending to obstruct” a lawful meeting, or made “any utterance, gesture, or display designed to outrage the sensibilities of the group.” Protests that block streets would face higher penalties as well: Obstructing any “public passage” is raised to a Class A misdemeanor; it is raised to a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, if it prevents an “emergency vehicle,” defined as any government or public service vehicle responding to an emergency, from accessing a street. The bill also bars 24-hour protests on certain state property, by making it a Class D felony to “camp” on state property that is not specifically designated for camping. “Camping” is defined as conduct between 10pm and 7am that includes laying down a blanket or using a piece of furniture. The bill would impose mandatory minimum sentences of 30-45 days for individuals convicted of riot offenses. Kentucky law defines “riot” as a group of five or more that creates a danger of property damage or personal injury, or that substantially obstructs law enforcement or another government function, through violent and tumultuous conduct. The bill would also require that courts order full restitution “for any pecuniary loss” in riot convictions. The provision does not require that an individual convicted be ordered to pay restitution only for “pecuniary loss” that they were directly responsible for. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 5 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot, traffic interference, camping

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Maryland

HB 645: New penalties for protests on streets and sidewalks

Would create new criminal penalties for protesters who interfere with vehicular or pedestrian traffic. The bill makes it an offense to knowingly and unlawfully “obstruct, hinder, impede, or block” use of a “highway.” The offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by 3 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. Maryland Code on Transportation §8-101 defines “highway” to include any “structures forming an integral part of a street, road, or highway, including bicycle and walking paths.” If the bill were enacted, peaceful protesters who temporarily diverted pedestrians on a sidewalk could face up to three years in prison. The bill would also newly criminalize “disturb[ing] the peace of another” by making an “unreasonably loud noise”--for instance through a march or demonstration--on a street or other right-of-way. The offense would be a misdemeanor, punishable by two months in jail and a $500 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Minnesota

SF 355: New penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines

Would create new civil and criminal liability for protesters on pipeline property as well as civil liability for any organization or entity that supports them. Like SF 3230/ HF 2966, introduced during the 2019-2020 session, the bill would make someone who trespasses on property containing a pipeline or other “critical public service facility” liable for any damages to property that they commit while trespassing. Any person or entity that “knowingly recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, [or] conspires with” someone who trespasses or causes damage to property could be held “jointly and severably liable.” If the person trespasses with intent "to significantly impede or inhibit operation" of a covered facility, utility, or pipeline they are guilty of a felony and may be subject to three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine. The phrase "significantly impede or inhibit" could be construed to encompass peaceful protests that block access to infrastructure, which under Minnesota law is broadly defined to include bus stations and parts of bridges. The broad language used in the joint and severable liability provisions could be construed to include aiding a protester by providing them with water or medical assistance. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 28 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Minnesota

HF 466: Barring public benefits for protest-related offenses

Would broadly disqualify a person convicted of an offense during a protest from receiving public assistance. Any “offense related to the person's illegal conduct at a protest, demonstration, rally, civil unrest, or march” would disqualify the person from a range of benefits, including food assistance, education loans and grants, and unemployment assistance. Under the bill, a person convicted of even a misdemeanor that is deemed somehow “related” to their participation in a peaceful protest could face permanent disqualification from such benefits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 28 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): limit on public benefits

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Minnesota

HF 303 / SF 1285: New Penalties for Protesters Who Block Traffic

Would heighten penalties for protesters who intentionally disrupt traffic on a freeway or a roadway on airport property. Like HF 390, introduced in the 2019-2020 session, HF 303 provides that intentional traffic disruption on freeways or airport roadways would be a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 25 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Minnesota

HF 254 / SF 386: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Would create new potential penalties for protests near pipelines, utilities, and "critical public service facilities." Like HF 2441, which was introduced in the 2019-2020 session, HF 254 criminalizes trespass onto such properties, including those under construction, as a gross misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. Trespass “with the intent to disrupt the operation or provision of services” by the pipeline or utility, is a felony under the bill, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The bill also newly provides that a court may order anyone convicted of the above offenses to pay for “the costs and expenses resulting from the crime.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Jan 2021.

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

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Minnesota

HF 129 / SF 1378: NEW PENALTIES FOR PROTESTS NEAR GAS AND OIL PIPELINES

Would create new civil and criminal liability for protesters on infrastructure property as well as for any organization or entity that supports them. Like HF 3668, introduced in the 2019-2020 session, HF 129 would make someone who is convicted of or merely arrested for trespassing on property containing a critical public service facility, utility, or pipeline, civilly liable for any property damage arising out of the trespass. Under the bill, a person “or entity” that “recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with” someone who is convicted of or arrested for trespassing is also civilly liable for damages. The bill creates criminal liability for anyone who "intentionally recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with” someone to trespass, as well: If the person or entity fails to make a “reasonable effort” to prevent the trespass, and the offense is committed, they are guilty of a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine. The broad language used in the vicarious liability provisions could be construed to include aiding a protester by providing them with water or medical assistance. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 14 Jan 2021.

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

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Mississippi

SB 2283: New mandatory penalties for protesters who block traffic

As introduced, would create new, mandatory penalties for unpermitted protests that take place on or overflow into streets and highways. Under the introduced bill, anyone who “maliciously” obstructs the “free, convenient, and normal use” of a street or highway during a protest that was not authorized by a permit, is required to be jailed for at least 25 days (and up to one year), and pay at least $500 (and up to $1,500). (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Jan 2021; Approved by Senate 4 February 2021

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Missouri

SB 66: New penalties for protesters, and shields for those who commit violence against them

Would introduce a raft of new provisions affecting protesters, including civil immunity for drivers who injure protesters and a new affirmative defense for other acts of violence against protesters. The bill provides that a driver who injures someone who was “blocking traffic in a public right-of way while participating in a protest or demonstration” is not liable for damages, if the driver was “exercising due care.” The bill would also expand Missouri’s “Stand Your Ground” law, allowing a person to use deadly force against someone who is participating in an “unlawful assembly” and who unlawfully enters or attempts to enter private property that is owned or leased by the person. The bill introduces a series of new penalties for conduct associated with some protests: Protesters who block traffic could be charged with a new felony offense (up to 4 years in prison and a $10,000 fine) for intentionally walking, standing, sitting, kneeling, laying or placing an object in a manner that “blocks passage by a vehicle on any public street, highway, or interstate highway.” The offense would be a Class D felony (7 years and $10,000) if committed “as part of an unlawful assembly.” Under the bill, a person who “causes emotional distress to another person while participating in an unlawful assembly,” is guilty of second-degree harassment, punishable in most cases as a Class E felony (4 years and $10,000). Under the bill, protesters who vandalized, defaced, or otherwise damaged public monuments or structures on public property could be charged with “institutional vandalism,” a Class B felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Finally, the bill would create a new offense of "conspiring with others to cause or produce a riot or unlawful assembly," defined as knowingly providing payment or “other financial incentive” to six or more people to violate the Missouri laws against rioting or unlawful assembly. The new offense would be a Class E felony (4 years and $10,000). (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Dec 2020.

Issue(s): conspiracy, driver immunity, riot, traffic interference, trespass

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Missouri

HB 56: Eliminating civil and criminal liability for drivers who hit protesters

Would shield a driver from civil and criminal liability for injuring someone who was participating in an “unlawful or riotous assemblage,” if the driver was fleeing from the “unlawful or riotous assemblage” and "reasonably believed” they were in danger. If enacted, the bill would allow a driver to evade civil damages and criminal penalties for intentionally hitting and even killing a protester, if the driver “reasonably believed” they were in any danger. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Dec 2020.

Issue(s): driver immunity, riot

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Missouri

SB 26: heightened penalties for blocking roads

Would criminalize protests that block traffic as "unlawful traffic interference" and provide for harsh penalties. Like SB 9, introduced in the 2020 session, the bill would criminalize a person's intentional blocking of traffic on a public street or highway, whether with her body or an object, as a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. If the offense is repeated, or takes place on an interstate highway, it is a Class E felony, punishable by up to four years in jail and a $10,000 fine. If the offense is committed while the person is part of an "unlawful assembly," it is a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Missouri law currently defines an "unlawful assembly" as a gathering of at least six people in order to violate a law with force or violence. The bill would broaden this definition to include a gathering of two or more people to violate any law, with or without force or violence. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Dec 2020; Approved by Senate 25 February 2021

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Montana

HB 481: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Would heighten penalties for protests near oil pipelines and other "critical infrastructure facilities", including those under construction. The bill creates an offense of trespassing on critical infrastructure, defined as willfully and knowingly entering property containing a critical infrastructure facility that is posted or fenced. It is punishable by a misdemeanor of up to 6 months in jail or a $1,500 fine. If a person trespasses with the intent to willfully impede the facility's operations, or damage, deface, or tamper with facility equipment, the offense is a felony punishable by up to eighteen months in prison or a $4,500 fine. An organization that is found to be a conspirator in trespass on critical infrastructure is liable for fines that are ten times the amount authorized for the crime. A person who trespasses can be held liable for damages to property while trespassing, including damages to network performance or outage issues proximately caused by the trespass. An entity or person that compensates or provides consideration to someone for trespass may be held vicariously liable for damages committed by that person. "Critical infrastructure facility" is broadly defined and among many other things includes oil and gas pipelines, refineries, water treatment plants, railroad tracks, and telephone poles. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 18 Feb 2021.

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

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Nebraska

LB 111: Broad new penalties for "riot"-related offenses and disruptive protests

The bill would create a sweeping new “riot” offense, with steep penalties for participating in, organizing, advocating for, or assisting a riot. The bill defines “riot” as a group of three or more whose “tumultuous and violent conduct” creates “grave danger” of property damage or serious injury, or “substantially obstructs law enforcement or another governmental function.” The bill prohibits “participation” in a riot, which includes not only joining a riot, but “aiding and abetting” a riot, or “refusing any lawful order” by law enforcement. It is likewise prohibited under the bill to “advocate for or urge or organize” a riot. If the riot results in serious bodily injury or property damage, a person can be charged with a Class IV felony for the above offenses, regardless of whether the person had any role in the injury or damage, and sentenced to up to two years in prison. In all other cases the offenses are Class I misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail. The bill precludes bail for any one charged with “any crime… arising out of a riot.” The bill also affects protests on streets and sidewalks, as it creates a new offense for any person who intentionally or recklessly “obstructs a highway, street, sidewalk, aisle, hallway, or any other “public way,” whether on their own or with others. “Obstruct” is defined as rendering the public way “impassable” or “unreasonably inconvenient.” The offense, which could cover peaceful protests that take place on or spill over onto sidewalks and streets, would be a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. The bill would also make it unlawful to intentionally and substantially “obstruct or interfere with” a “lawful meeting, procession, or gathering.” The offense, which would presumably cover peaceful but disruptive protests at e.g. government hearings, would be a Class II misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail. Finally, the bill also creates new Class 1 misdemeanor offenses for “unauthorized application of graffiti” on state property, where “graffiti” is defined broadly enough to encompass chalk and other temporary markings applied as part of a peaceful protest. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 7 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): conspiracy, riot, traffic interference

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Nevada

AB 168: New felony penalties for unlawful protests and protests that block traffic, as well as penalties for protest funders and organizers

Would impose Class E felony penalties for participating in an “assembly to disturb the public peace,” an “unlawful assembly,” a “rout,” or a “riot,” if committed by a group of seven or more people. Under current Nevada law, all four offenses are misdemeanors if committed by two or more people. An “unlawful assembly,” for instance, is defined as two or more people who meet to do an unlawful act, but disperse without doing it. Under the bill, a group of seven who do so are guilty of a Class E felony, punishable by at least one and up to 4 years in prison. The bill would also increase the penalty for obstructing any road, street, or alley, from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony, if it occurs during an “assembly to disturb the public peace,” an “unlawful assembly,” a “rout” or a “riot.” Under the bill, a driver who injures or kills someone who was unlawfully obstructing a road, street or alley during an “assembly to disturb the public peace,” an “unlawful assembly,” a “rout” or a “riot,” would not be civilly liable if they were exercising “due care.” Under the bill, it would also be a Class E felony instead of a gross misdemeanor to vandalize, place graffiti on or otherwise deface property if committed during a “riot.” The bill creates a new Class E felony offense for knowingly or intentionally providing “material support” with the intent that the support will be used in or for an “assembly to disturb the public peace,” an “unlawful assembly,” or a “rout” or “riot.” "Material support” is broadly defined to include “any financial, logistical, informational or other support or assistance," such that someone who gives directions to someone in a 3-person "unlawful assembly" could face felony charges.The bill would also expand Nevada’s racketeering law, to cover racketeering activity in furtherance of an “assembly to disturb the public peace,” an “unlawful assembly,” a “rout” or a “riot,” resulting in potential new penalties for protest organizers. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 23 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): conspiracy, driver immunity, riot, traffic interference

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New Hampshire

HB 197: Legal defense for the use of deadly force against protesters

Would create a new legal justification for using deadly force against protesters. The bill would expand New Hampshire’s self-defense statutes to justify a person’s use of deadly force against someone who they believe is “likely” to use “any unlawful force” while committing a “riot” against someone in a vehicle, house, or curtilage. The bill appears to justify deadly force against someone who is “likely” to use “any” amount of force while committing "riot"--including against a third party. If enacted, the bill is likely to encourage violent and even lethal conflict in the context of protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 6 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): riot, stand your ground

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New Jersey

S 3261: New penalties for blocking traffic and other protest-adjacent conduct

Would make it a felony offense to purposely or recklessly obstruct a public road while engaging in “disorderly conduct” or a “riot,” punishable by up to a year and a half in prison and a $10,000 fine. Both “disorderly conduct” and “riot” are defined broadly under New Jersey law: “Disorderly conduct,” for instance, could include “recklessly creating a risk of public inconvenience” by causing a “hazardous condition,” or using “unreasonably loud and offensively coarse” language in a public place. The bill would also broaden the definition of “riot,” such that a group of five or more people who engage in “disorderly conduct” and cause any damage to property or persons could face riot charges, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and $15,000. Individuals who deface a monument during an unruly protest would also face heightened penalties under the bill: Current law penalizes defacing or damaging any public monument or structure as a disorderly persons offense, subject to six months in jail. The bill would make the same offense a felony punishable by a year and a half in prison and $10,000, if committed during a “riot.” The bill would create new sanctions for protest organizers and patrons, as well: Under the bill, a person who “conspires with others as an organizer, supervisor, financier or manager to commit” one of a number of crimes during a protest would be guilty of “promotion of violent, disorderly assembly” and face enhanced criminal penalties. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 10 Dec 2020.

Issue(s): conspiracy, riot, traffic interference

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New Jersey

A 4991: Heightened penalties for blocking traffic, riot, disorderly conduct, and related offenses

Would create a new offense for blocking a highway or any “other public passage” in the course of a riot or disorderly conduct. The offense would be a fourth-degree crime, punishable by 1.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. (Under current law, blocking a highway or any other passage is a petty disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to 6 months in jail.) The bill would also create a new offense for disorderly conduct committed during a riot in a “place of public accommodation.” The offense would also be a fourth-degree crime. The bill would create a new offense for “desecration of venerable objects” during a riot--also a fourth-degree crime. “Venerable objects” includes “any public monument, insignia, symbol, or structure,” and “desecrate” includes "defacing" as well as “toppling.” New Jersey currently defines “riot” as participation in disorderly conduct by a group of five or more people with an unlawful purpose. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 16 Nov 2020.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference

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New Jersey

AB 3760: 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, and again in 2018 as AB 2853. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 6 Mar 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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New York

A 5121: Heightened penalties for "incitement to riot"

Would increase the penalty for incitement to riot from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony, punishable by up to 4 years in prison. Under current New York law, a person can be convicted of inciting a riot if “he urges ten or more persons to engage in tumultuous and violent conduct of a kind likely to create public alarm.” The bill does not define what “urges” could include; similar language has been found by courts to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 11 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): riot

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North Dakota

HB 1240: Restitution penalty for offenses related to “riot”

Would permit a court to order restitution as an additional penalty for riot-related offenses. Under the bill, a person guilty of engaging in or inciting a “riot,” or failure to obey law enforcement’s orders “during a riot,” may be ordered to make restitution for any property “damaged or destroyed in the course of the riot.” The bill does not require that a restitution order be linked to an individual’s direct responsibility for the damaged property. A bystander at the scene of a protest that was deemed a “riot,” for instance, who does not comply with a police officer’s orders, could face not only up to one year in jail (the penalty under current law) but also be charged with the cost of replacing property that was damaged by other protesters. “Riot” is defined under North Dakota law as a “public disturbance involving an assemblage of five or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or substantially obstructs law enforcement or other government function.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 11 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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Ohio

HB 109: Heightened penalties for blocking traffic and other conduct during protests, and new liability for organizations involved in protests

Would heighten potential penalties for protesters who block traffic, by providing that engaging in “disorderly conduct” by blocking a public street or highway is a 3rd degree felony (instead of a minor misdemeanor) if it occurs during a “riot”, or during a protest that was not granted a permit or one for which the scope of the permit was exceeded. Existing law defines “disorderly conduct” broadly, as “recklessly caus[ing] inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm,” through means including “making unreasonable noise” or “hindering” movement of people on streets. “Riot” is also broadly defined under existing law as participating with four or more people in “disorderly conduct” with an unlawful purpose – to commit a misdemeanor, impede a government function, or interfere with lawful activities at an educational institution. The bill creates a new offense of “harassment in a place of public accommodation,” defined as recklessly "harassing" or "intimidating" another at a place of public accommodation while engaged in a “riot”. The offense is a 1st degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill creates a new offense for “riot vandalism,” for “recklessly” causing physical harm to property that is owned or leased by a government entity, or that is a monument, tomb, or “similar structure.” The new offense is a 5th degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. The bill also provides that someone who causes any property damage or injury while committing “riot” is guilty of a 4th degree felony (instead of a 1st degree misdemeanor), punishable by a year and a half in prison and a $5,000 fine. The bill would introduce new potential felony penalties and civil liability for individuals and organizations involved in funding or organizing protests that are deemed “riots”. Under the bill, an organization whose associates engage in, attempt, or conspire to engage in providing “material support” to another to “plan, prepare, carry out, or aid” a “riot,” or to “organize[] persons” to engage in a “riot,” would be committing “corrupt activity,” which could trigger 2nd degree felony charges, punishable by up to eight years in prison and a $15,000 fine. The organization could also be liable for property damage that resulted and the cost of law enforcement involved in investigating and prosecuting the offense. These provisions could affect organizations that are even tangentially involved in protest activity. Finally, the bill would allow police to sue individuals for injury or property loss resulting from the individual's role in an “unlawful assembly” or “riot”. Organizations that provide “material support” to the individuals would also be civilly liable, for treble damages. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 16 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, traffic interference

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Ohio

SB 41: Charging protesters for the cost of property damage and the cost of law enforcement to respond to a protest

Would require that anyone convicted of "riot" or "aggravated riot" pay restitution for any property damage in addition to other penalties imposed. Additionally, the bill would allow law enforcement and other public agencies to seek reimbursement from a protester for all costs the agency incurred in responding to a “potential serious threat to public safety”—defined to include a “validated report” report that two or more people are committing vandalism, “criminal mischief,” or “aggravated riot.” The agency could seek court-ordered reimbursement from anyone convicted of committing any misdemeanor or felony offense “in connection with” a “potential serious threat to public safety.” In other words, the bill would allow a police department to seek compensation from a protester who was convicted of a simple misdemeanor, for the time spent by officers in responding to a report of “aggravated riot,” even if no “aggravated riot” occurred. The bill would also create a new felony offense for vandalism on government property. Under the bill, intentionally “defacing, painting” or otherwise “marking upon” property owned, leased, or controlled by the government, even if only in a temporary manner, is a fifth degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. Finally, the bill makes planning or "aiding in planning" vandalism of government property a new conspiracy offense—a first degree misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, security costs, riot

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Ohio

SB 16: New penalties for protesters who block traffic, and for protest funders and organizers

Would create new penalties for protests that took place on or spilled onto streets, sidewalks, or any other “public passage.” The bill provides that it is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months year in jail and a $1,000 fine, to “impede” or render any public passage “impassable without unreasonable inconvenience” after being asked by an authority to stop. If the offense occurs as part of a “riot,” it is a fifth degree felony, punishable by one year in prison and a $2,500 fine. Ohio law defines “riot” to include engaging in “disorderly conduct” with four or more persons with the purpose of committing a misdemeanor, or to “hinder, impede, or obstruct a function of government”—a definition broad enough to cover peaceful protests. The bill would also introduce new potential felony penalties and civil liability for individuals and organizations involved in funding or organizing protests that are deemed “riots.” Under the bill, an organization whose associates engage in, attempt, or conspire to engage in providing “material support” to another to “plan, prepare, carry out, or aid” a “riot,” or to “organize[] persons” to engage in a “riot,” would be committing “corrupt activity,” which could trigger second class felony charges, punishable by up to eight years in prison and a $15,000 fine. The organization could also be liable for property damage that resulted and the cost of law enforcement involved in investigating and prosecuting the offense. These provisions could affect organizations that are even tangentially involved in protest activity, as “material support” could cover donor funding to advocacy groups that engage in protests, or trainings for activists about peaceful protest tactics. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 26 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): conspiracy, riot, traffic interference

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Oklahoma

HB 1674: Penalties for protesters who block traffic, immunity for drivers who hit protesters, and liability for organizations that work with protesters

Would create new penalties for protesters who obstruct traffic while participating in a “riot.” Under the bill, a person who participates in a “riot” and “knowingly and willfully obstructed” the “normal use” of a public street or highway, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison, a $5,000 fine, and restitution for any property damage that occured. The bill defines “obstruct” to include rendering the street or highway “unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous.” “Riot” is broadly defined under Oklahoma law, to include a group of three or more people who make “any threat to use force.” The bill also shields from liability a driver who injures or kills someone while “fleeing from a riot,” as long as they did so “unintentionally” and held a “reasonable belief” that they needed to flee to protect themselves. Under the bill, such a driver cannot be held civilly or criminally liable for the injuries or death they caused. Finally, the bill provides that an organization found to have “conspired” with individuals who are found guilty of certain offenses—"unlawful assembly,” “riot,” “incitement to riot,” refusing to aid in the arrest of a “rioter,” and remaining at the scene of a “riot” after being ordered to disperse—will be fined ten times the maximum amount of fine authorized for the individual’s offense. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, driver immunity, riot, traffic interference

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Oklahoma

HB 1561: Steep penalties for obstructing traffic, and elimination of liability for drivers who hit protesters

Would create new felony penalties for protests that take place on or spill onto streets and highways. Under the bill, a person who “willfully obstructed” the “normal use” of a public street or highway is guilty of a felony, punishable by up to 2 years in prison. The bill defines “obstruct” to include rendering passage on the street or highway “unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous.” The bill also shields from liability a driver who injures or kills someone while “fleeing from a riot,” as long as they did so “unintentionally” and held a “reasonable belief” that they needed to flee to protect themselves. Such a driver cannot be held civilly or criminally liable. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): driver immunity, traffic interference

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Oklahoma

HB 1565: Mandatory dismissal of state employees convicted of protest offenses

The bill requires that employees of the state who are convicted of “incitement to riot” or “unlawful assembly” must be terminated from their job, and barred from future employment with any government entity. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): riot

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Oklahoma

HB 1578: New penalties for vandalism and "annoying" or "alarming" conduct during a “riot”

Would create a new felony offense for participating in a “riot” and “vandalizing” or “defacing” any structure owned by a government entity. The offense is punishable by at least 2 and up to 10 years in prison. The bill does not define “vandalize” or “deface." The bill also creates a new misdemeanor offense for intentionally causing “annoyance" or "alarm" at a public accommodation, during a "riot," through “tumultuous” or “threatening” behavior or “abusive language.” The offense is punishable by a minimum of one year in jail. “Riot” is broadly defined under Oklahoma law, to include a group of three or more people who make “any threat to use force.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): riot

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Oklahoma

HB 2094: Allowing lawsuits against the state for failure to aggressively respond to protests

Would waive the state’s immunity from civil lawsuits for damage caused by protests in certain cases. Under the bill, the state and its subdivisions would be liable to claims for damages if they failed to take “reasonable action” to mitigate damage or injury resulting from a “riot” or “civil disobedience,” or made a decision or established a policy “to allow” civil disobedience and riots. If enacted, the bill could encourage state and local governments to adopt overly aggressive law enforcement responses to protests and acts of civil disobedience, in order to avoid lawsuits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): riot, state liability

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Oklahoma

HB 2096: Steep penalties for vandalism of public property during a protest

Would create a new offense that could cover nondestructive acts of expression during protests. The bill provides that anyone who participated in a “riot” and willfully “vandalized or defaced” a government-owned structure or building, is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. “Riot” is broadly defined under Oklahoma law, to include a group of three or more people who make “any threat to use force.” “Vandalize” and “deface” are not defined, and could cover chalk drawings or artwork posted with temporary adhesive. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): riot

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Oklahoma

HB 2215: Immunity for drivers who hit protesters and an expanded definition of “incitement to riot”

Would shield a driver who unintentionally injured or killed someone while “fleeing from a riot” if the driver had the “reasonable belief” that fleeing was necessary to avoid injury. If enacted, the bill would allow a driver to evade civil damages and criminal penalties for hitting and even killing a protester, as long as the injury or death was “unintended” and they had a “reasonable” fear of injury. The bill also substantially broadens the definition of “incitement to riot,” a felony offense. Under the bill, a person who intends to aid or abet a “riot” and who in any way “urges” another to “interfere” with a police officer; “obstruct” the entrance to a private business; or “obstruct” any street or highway would be guilty of “incitement to riot”—a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. “Riot” is broadly defined under Oklahoma law, to include a group of three or more people who make “any threat to use force.” The terms “interfere” and “obstruct” are not defined, and as such the offense could include showing support for a peacefully protest that even temporarily pauses traffic. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): driver immunity, riot, traffic interference

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Oklahoma

HB 2464: Heightened penalties for protests that block traffic

Would create a new felony offense for anyone who participates in a “riot” and intentionally “obstructs” traffic. The bill does not define “obstruct,” nor does it limit the locations where such obstruction might take place. According to the bill, an individual in a protest that is deemed a “riot” who pauses traffic on a private road or in a public parking lot could be guilty of a felony and face up to 5 years in prison. “Riot” is broadly defined under Oklahoma law, to include a group of three or more people who make “any threat to use force.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference

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Oklahoma

SB 806: New penalties for protests that block traffic and organizations that support unlawful protests

Would newly add “riot” and “unlawful assembly” to the underlying crimes that can be prosecuted for “racketeering activity” under Oklahoma’s RICO statute. “Racketeering” includes attempt, conspiracy, and solicitation. As such, under the bill, an organization or individual found to have “conspired” with others to engage in a protest that is deemed a “riot” or “unlawful assembly” could be prosecuted under RICO. Violations under the RICO statute are a felony, punishable by at least 10 years in prison and a steep fine. This provision would likely discourage non-profit organizations among others from engaging with or supporting protest organizers or participants, out of concern that they could be caught up in a RICO prosecution. The bill would also make it a misdemeanor to “block” or “restrict” traffic on any public highway or street “as a result of a riot” or “unlawful assembly.” The offense would be punishable by up to one year in jail, a $500 fine, at least 40 hours of community service, and restitution for any property damage. The bill would also require that anyone convicted of participation in a “riot,” “rout,” or “unlawful assembly” pay restitution for any property damage resulting from the offense, and perform at least 40 hours of community service. The new penalties would apply to individuals who remained at the scene after being lawfully warned to disperse, and those who continued to participate when a lawful assembly became a “riot.” “Riot” is broadly defined under Oklahoma law, to include a group of three or more people who make “any threat to use force;” “unlawful assembly” is likewise broadly defined, and includes a group of three or more who gather without lawful authority in a manner “as is adapted to disturb the public peace.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, riot, traffic interference

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Oklahoma

SB 15: Mandatory restitution for property damage during unlawful assembly or riot

Would require courts to order individuals convicted of participation in a riot, incitement to riot, or participation in an unlawful assembly to pay restitution for any property damage or loss caused by the offense. Under the bill's provisions, individuals could be ordered to pay for damage that they did not personally cause, if a gathering they were part of was declared unlawful or a riot. Oklahoma law also broadly defines "riot" and "unlawful assembly," for instance giving broad discretion to authorities to label as an "unlawful assembly" a group of four or more people who gather without a permit "in such a manner as is adapted to disturb the public peace." (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Nov 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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Rhode Island

HB 5001: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would introduce new felony penalties for protesters who block highway traffic. The bill creates a new “unlawful interference with traffic” offense for anyone who “stands, sits, kneels, or otherwise loiters” on a highway, causing “obstruction, distraction, or delay” of any motorist. The offense is a felony, punishable by a minimum of one and up to 3 years in prison. A second conviction for the offense is punishable by at least 3 and up to 5 years, and a third conviction is punishable by at least 5 and up to 10 years. If the interference causes the “obstruction, distraction, or delay” of an emergency vehicle, and results in death, anyone convicted of participating in the interference will be sentenced to at least 5 and up to 30 years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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South Carolina

HB 3491: New penalties for protesters, and a shield for those who commit violence against them

Would create new penalties for offenses that could encompass conduct by peaceful protesters. The bill newly criminalizes the blocking of a street, sidewalk, or “any other place used for the passage of persons, vehicles or conveyances.” Accordingly, protesters who obstruct or make it “unreasonably inconvenient” to use a street or sidewalk could face up to three years in jail. The bill also targets protest encampments on the grounds outside government buildings, by broadly defining “camping,” and prohibiting camping on state property that is not designated for camping. As such, protesters who use any “piece of furniture” or erect tarps or other shelters on state property could be charged with a felony, if they continue to do so 24 hours after receiving a warning. The bill amends South Carolina’s law on “rioting” to require that anyone convicted of rioting—including “by being personally present [at], or by instigating, promoting, or aiding” a riot—be ordered to pay restitution “for any property damage or loss incurred as a result.” Protesters could thus be liable for property damage that they did not cause, but were “present” for. Finally, the bill would create new criminal and civil immunity for a person who uses deadly force or points a firearm when “confronted by a mob,” where “mob” is broadly defined. The provision may encourage the use of force and the incidence of violent confrontations in the context of protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 16 Dec 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, riot, traffic interference, camping

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Tennessee

SB 451 / HB 881: Mandatory penalties for expanded “aggravated riot” offense

Would expand the definition of “aggravated riot” and create new mandatory minimum penalties for that offense. To be convicted of “riot” under current Tennessee law, a person only needs to knowingly gather with two or more people whose tumultuous and violent conduct creates “grave danger of substantial damage to property or serious bodily injury to persons or substantially obstructs law enforcement or other governmental function.” For instance, one could be held guilty of “riot” for merely joining a large protest in which there is isolated pushing, even if no one is injured. Under current law, a person commits “aggravated riot” if they participate in a “riot” and someone is injured or substantial property damage occurs, even if the person did not commit any violence or intend violence to occur. Under the proposed bill, a person would also be guilty of “aggravated riot” if they participate in a “riot” and either participated “in exchange for compensation,” or “traveled from outside the state with the intent to commit a criminal offense.” A “criminal offense” could include, for example, temporarily blocking a street as part of a protest. “Aggravated riot” is a Class E felony, which is punishable by up to 6 years in jail and a fine of $3,000; the bill introduces a mandatory minimum of at least 45 days of imprisonment. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): riot

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Tennessee

HB 513: New penalties for protesters who block traffic, and criminal immunity for drivers who hit them

Would significantly increase the penalty for intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly “obstructing” a sidewalk, street, or other public passage, elevating it from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class E felony. As such, the offense would be punishable by up to 6 years in prison, and the bill would additionally impose a mandatory $3,000 fine. Under the bill, a driver who injures or kills someone who is intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly “obstructing” a sidewalk, street, or other public passage, is immune from prosecution, as long as he was exercising “due care” and the injury or death was not intentional. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 4 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): driver immunity, traffic interference

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Tennessee

HB 513 / SB 843: Heightened penalties for protesters who block sidewalks and streets

Would increase the penalty for knowingly or recklessly obstructing a sidewalk, street, or “or any other place used for the passage of persons, vehicles or conveyances.” Instead of a Class A misdemeanor, the offense would be a Class E felony, punishable by up to 6 years in prison and a fine of $3,000. The bill would also immunize from prosecution a person who hits a protester with their car, if the protester was obstructing a sidewalk, street, or “or any other place used for the passage of persons, vehicles or conveyances,” and the driver hit them unintentionally and was “exercising due care.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 4 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): driver immunity, traffic interference

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Utah

SB 138: New penalties for protesters who block traffic and immunity for drivers who injure them

Would institute new felony penalties for anyone found guilty of “riot” who intentionally “obstructed” traffic. The offense would be a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. The bill’s revised definition of “riot,” while somewhat narrower than existing law, would still be broad enough to cover protests by three or more people where no violence or property destruction was committed. The bill provides that anyone charged with “riot” may be denied bail. Under the bill, anyone convicted on felony “riot” charges may not be employed by any state or local government entity for five years after the conviction; they also may not receive any state employment benefits during that time. The bill would also eliminate criminal and civil liability of a driver who unintentionally injured or killed someone near a protest. Under the bill, a driver would not be criminally or civilly liable if he injured or killed someone while “fleeing from a riot,” believing that fleeing was necessary to avoid injury and exercising “due care” in doing so. These provisions, if enacted, could encourage reckless driving near protesters and injuries as a result. Finally, the bill waives a local government’s immunity from a lawsuit for instances of “grossly negligent conduct” in which an employee failed to protect property or individuals during a “riot” or “violent assembly.” If enacted, these provisions could encourage municipal governments to adopt overly aggressive law enforcement responses to protests in order to avoid lawsuits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 28 Jan 2021; Approved by Senate 24 February 2021

Issue(s): driver immunity, riot, traffic interference, state liability

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Virginia

SB 5079: New civil liability for law enforcement agencies that “stand down” during a riot or unlawful assembly

Would allow someone who is injured or sustains any property damage to sue the director of a law enforcement agency, if the person's injuries or damage were incurred as a result of the director ordering law enforcement officers not to take action in response to a riot or unlawful assembly. The bill provides that, in such lawsuits, a plaintiff may recover compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorney fees and costs, including costs and reasonable fees for expert witnesses. If enacted, the bill’s proposal would create incentives for law enforcement to use more aggressive, provocative tactics against protesters, including peaceful protesters, in order to avoid a costly lawsuit. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, police response, riot, state liability

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Virginia

SB 5058: Heightened penalties for remaining at an unlawful assembly or riot

Would increase the criminal penalty for remaining at the place of a declared “unlawful assembly” or “riot” after having been lawfully warned to disperse. The penalty would be a Class 1, rather than Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Virginia law defines “unlawful assembly” broadly, to include a gathering of three or more people that “tends to inspire” a “well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order.” Peaceful protesters who failed to leave the scene of such a gathering, after being ordered to do so, could accordingly face up to one year in jail. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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Virginia

SB 5074: New penalties for protests that block emergency vehicles

Would heighten existing penalties for anyone who “unreasonably or unnecessarily obstructs the delivery of emergency medical services,” or who “refuses to cease such obstruction or move on when requested to do so” from a Class 2 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, if the violation occurs at the site of a riot or unlawful assembly. Virginia law defines “unlawful assembly” broadly, to include a gathering of three or more people that “tends to inspire” a “well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order.” Under the bill, participants in a peaceful street protest who failed or were unable to make way for emergency vehicles, for instance, could face felony charges if their gathering was deemed to be an “unlawful assembly.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): riot, traffic interference

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Washington

SB 5456: New penalties for “swarming” a car during a protest, and provision for driver immunity

Would create a new offense, “swarming,” defined as one or more people participating in a protest or demonstration who “knowingly approach, surround, block” or “otherwise unlawfully impede or attempt to impede” the progress of a vehicle on a public street, highway, or parking lot. The offense of “swarming” applies regardless of whether the protest the people were participating in is authorized by a permit or not. It is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine; a subsequent offense is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. The bill also provides that a driver who injures someone while trying to avoid or flee from people engaged in “swarming,” “disorderly conduct,” or “criminal mischief” is immune from a civil lawsuit, as long as the injury was unintentional. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 15 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): driver immunity, traffic interference

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Washington

SB 5310: Steep penalties for protesters who block traffic, for protest organizers, and an expansive new “riot” offense

The bill creates a new felony offense that could be levied against protesters who block traffic on a highway. According to the bill, a group of four or more people who make passage on a highway “unreasonably inconvenient” without legal authority to do so, are guilty of “obstructing a highway,” a Class C felony punishable by 5 years in prison and $10,000. The bill also provides civil immunity for a driver who injures or kills someone on the highway if the driver was “reasonably attempting” to avoid or “flee” the person. The bill creates a new felony offense of “leading an organized riot,” an act sufficiently broadly defined to include organizing or supporting a peaceful protest that is deemed unlawful. Under the bill, “organizing, managing, directing, supervising, or financing” a group of three or more people with the intent “to promote the accomplishment of a pattern of criminal mischief,” constitutes “leading an organized riot,” a Class C felony. The bill would newly criminalize “riot,” using a broad definition that could encompass peaceful protesters. The bill defines “riot” to include knowingly and unlawfully participating in an assembly with seven or more people, with “acts of conduct within that group” that create a “substantial risk” of property damage or personal injury. The offense does not require that an individual personally act in a way that threatens personal injury or property damage. For instance, if an individual joins a very large, spontaneous protest that does not have a permit, and someone “within that group” threatens to damage property, the individual could be charged with “riot.” The offense is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Finally, the bill would waive the immunity of any “political subdivision,” including counties, cities, and towns, making them civilly liable for property loss or personal injury resulting from any “riot” or “unlawful assembly” if law enforcement have not exercised “reasonable care or diligence” to prevent or “suppress[]” the riot or assembly. In such an event, the bill provides that the subdivision may be further subject to a fine of $10,000 per day, and lose up to one-half of its share of the state’s “criminal justice assistance account” for up to one year. These provisions, if enacted, could encourage local governments to adopt overly aggressive law enforcement responses to protests, in order to avoid lawsuits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 20 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): conspiracy, driver immunity, riot, traffic interference, state liability

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