US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker, part of ICNL's US Program, follows initiatives at the state and federal level since January 2017 that restrict the right to peaceful assembly. For information about our methodology, click here. For more information and an analysis of this data, click here.

45 states have
considered
231 bills
36 enacted 52 pending

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Sep. 7, 2021 (Alaska), Sep. 3, 2021 (North Carolina), Sep. 1, 2021 (North Carolina)
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87 entries matching in provided filters in 30 states.
Alabama

HB 2 / SB 3: EXPANDED DEFINITION OF "RIOT," "INCITEMENT TO RIOT," AND NEW PENALTIES FOR PROTESTERS WHO BLOCK TRAFFIC

Would redefine "riot" under Alabama law as an “assemblage of five or more” people which results in “conduct which creates an immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons.” This definition is broad enough to cover many peaceful protests, as well as other gatherings, where law enforcement merely perceives a danger of property damage. 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." It is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by one year in jail and a $6,000 fine, to intentionally participate in a riot after receiving an order to disperse by law enforcement or when in violation of curfew. The bill provides that if any injuries or property damage exceeding $2500 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, even if that individual participant did not contribute to the injury or property damage. The bill expands the current definition of "incitement to riot" under Alabama law to include a person who "solicits, incites, funds, urges” 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 requires anyone charged with "riot,” “inciting a riot,” or "aggravated riot" to be held without bail for up to 24 hours pending a hearing; 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" as well as “any and all other losses suffered by any victim.” The bill creates a new offense of unlawful traffic interference for anyone who intentionally or recklessly impedes traffic by walking, sitting, standing, kneeling, lying, or placing an object to impede the 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 C felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail. Finally, the bill requires that any locality that defunds a law enforcement agency is no longer eligible for any type of state funding unless they can prove fiscal or practical necessity. This pre-filed bill for the 2022 legislative session is close to identical to the version of HB 445 that passed the House in March of 2021, but did not advance further in the 2021 legislative session. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 28 Jun 2021; Pre-Filed for the 2022 Legislative Session

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Riot, Traffic Interference

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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: defeated / expired

Introduced 24 Feb 2021; Approved by House 18 March 2021

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Conspiracy, Riot, Traffic Interference

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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: defeated / expired

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: defeated / expired

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: defeated / expired

Introduced 15 Jan 2021; Approved by House 3 March 2021

Issue(s): Riot, Traffic Interference, Limit on Public Benefits

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Arkansas

HB 1508: New penalties for protesters who block traffic, "riot", or damage monuments

As enacted, the law increases the penalty for obstructing a "public passage", from a Class C to a Class A misdemeanor. As such, an individual in a protest that makes a sidewalk "impassable to pedestrian... traffic" could face up to one year in jail. The law also creates a new mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail for "rioting", and requires restitution for any injury or damage as a result of the offense. Rioting is defined in Arkansas to include engaging with two or more persons in "tumultuous" conduct that creates a "substantial risk" of "public alarm." The law requires that a person convicted of inciting a riot likewise pay restitution for any injury or damage as a result of the offense. The law provides that the state Attorney General may initiate an investigation into cases of riot, inciting riot, and obstructing a highway or other public passage. Finally, the law amends the definition of "act of terrorism" under Arkansas law, to include any act that causes "substantial damage" to a public "monument." It is not clear whether graffiti or other painting applied to a monument as part of a protest could comprise a terrorist act under the new law. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 22 Feb 2021; Approved by House 19 April 2021; Approved by Senate 22 April 2021; Signed by Governor Hutchinson 29 April 2021

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Riot, Terrorism, Traffic Interference

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Arkansas

HB 1578: Expanded Civil Liability for Those Who Incite a Riot and Criminal Penalties for Obstructing First Responders

Creates a civil cause of action for a person who is injured or has property damaged as a "direct or indirect" result of a riot against a rioter or a person or entity who incites a riot. Under Arkansas law, both the riot and incitement to riot statute are broad, creating potential liability for protesters or organizations who are interpreted to have urged others to have engaged in tumultuous or violent conduct. The bill also makes it a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, to knowingly obstruct or interfere with a first responder in providing medical services, or a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years, if the same is done purposefully. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 17 Feb 2017; Passed by House 2 March 2017; Passed by Senate 27 March 2017; Signed by Governor 6 April 2017.

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Police Response, Riot, Traffic Interference

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Arkansas

HB 1898: Heightened penalties for protests that block roads

Would create the offense of "aggravated disorderly conduct," defined to include "recklessly creating a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm" by "obstruct[ing] the free use of public roads, streets, highways, airports, or other rights-of-way of travel." The offense would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 20 Mar 2019; Died on House Calendar at sine die adjournment 24 April 2019

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Arkansas

AB 550: Criminalizing "unlawful mass picketing"

Would have introduced a new crime, "unlawful mass picketing." Under the bill, picketing or demonstrating near a private establishment, business, or school would be illegal if it obstructs the entrance to a place of employment or blocks use of roads, railways, or airports. Commission of unlawful mass picketing would be a Class A misdemeanor, subject to up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 2 Mar 2017; Approved by Senate 13 March 2017; Approved by House 29 March 2017; Vetoed by Governor Hutchinson 6 April 2017

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Florida

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

Enlarges 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 "imminent 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 new law, a "riot" consisting of 25 or more people, or one that "endangers the safe movement of a vehicle," is automatically an "aggravated riot," a new 2nd degree felony offense under the law. As such, large groups of protesters or ones that block traffic, even temporarily, could face up to 15 years in prison. Under the new law, "inciting" someone to participate in a riot is a 3rd degree felony, punishable by 5 years in prison. The law 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 or refrain from doing any act," or "assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint" against their will. The offense is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. The law 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" and the value of the damage is more than $200. 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 law 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." Finally, the law creates a new civil right of action against a municipal government that fails to provide "respond appropriately to protect persons and property 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: enacted

Introduced 6 Jan 2021; Approved by House 26 March 2021; Approved by Senate 15 April 2021; Signed by Governor DeSantis 19 April 2021

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Driver Immunity, Police Response, Riot, Traffic Interference, State Liability, Stand Your Ground

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Florida

SB 1096/HB 1419: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would have criminalized the obstruction of traffic during an unpermitted protest or demonstration as a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in prison and a $500 fine. The bill also eliminates civil liability for a driver who unintentionally injures or kills a protestor interfering with traffic during an unpermitted protest or demonstration. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 21 Feb 2017; Introduced 7 March 2017 in House; Failed in Senate committee 8 May 2017

Issue(s): Driver Immunity, Traffic Interference

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Georgia

SB 160: Heightened penalties for blocking traffic

As introduced and passed by the Georgia Senate, the "Back the Badge" bill included heightened penalties for intentionally or recklessly blocking "any highway, street, sidewalk, or other passage." Accordingly, protesters and demonstrators peacefully obstructing a public sidewalk could have been charged with a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature, which under Georgia law is subject to up to a $5,000 fine or up to one year in jail. These provisions were removed, however, in the version of the bill approved by the House of Representatives and sent to the Governor on April 10, 2017. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 10 Apr 2017; Approved by Senate 24 Feb 2017; Approved by House 24 March 2017 without protest provisions

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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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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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: defeated / expired

Introduced 7 Jan 2021; Withdrawn on 25 January 2021

Issue(s): Riot, Traffic Interference, Camping

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Indiana

SB 285: Heightened police response to protests that block traffic

As introduced, the bill would have allowed law enforcement officials to use "any means necessary" to break up public assemblies that obstructed traffic. The bill defines "mass traffic obstruction" as an obstruction of street or highway traffic by at least 10 people as part or result of a protest, riot, or other assembly. It provides that public officials were obliged within 15 minutes of learning of a mass traffic obstruction to dispatch all available law enforcement with directions to "use any means necessary" to clear the roads of the persons obstructing traffic. After extensive committee amendments softening the bill, the Indiana Senate voted on February 27, 2017 effectively to vacate it and instead create a study committee to examine what constitutes a "reasonable response" to mass traffic obstruction. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Jan 2017; Amended in committee 23 Feb 2017; Effectively vacated 27 Feb 2017

Issue(s): Police Response, Traffic Interference

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Iowa

SF 342: Heightened penalties for protesters convicted of "riot," "unlawful assembly," or blocking traffic, and immunity for drivers who injure them

Would elevate the penalties for "riot" from an aggravated misdemeanor to a Class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $7,500. 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 to an aggravated misdemeanor. 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. Under the bill, a driver who injures someone who is participating in a "protest, demonstration, riot, or unlawful assembly," engaging in "disorderly conduct," and blocking traffic, is immune from civil liability as long as the driver was exercising "due care" and the protester did not have a permit to be in the street. The bill would also allow law enforcement who experience a physical or other injury while on duty to pursue civil damages from a person, group, or organization. Finally, the bill creates a new felony offense for "defacing" public property, "including a monument or statue." The offense, a Class D felony, is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a $7,500, and mandatory restitution for any property damage. This bill was introduced and passed by the Senate as SF 534, but passed by the House as an amendment to SF 342. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 1 Mar 2021; Approved by Senate 10 March 2021, Approved by House 14 April 2021, Signed by Governor 16 June 2021

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Driver Immunity, Riot, Traffic Interference

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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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Iowa

SB 286: Heightened penalties for protesters who block traffic

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 2 Mar 2017; reintroduced 18 February 2019

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Kentucky

HB 546: Heightened penalties for protesters who block traffic, disrupt meetings, or participate in a "riot"

Would increase the penalty for obstructing a highway or public passage to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. If the obstruction prevents an emergency vehicle from accessing a street or access to an emergency exit it is a class D felony, punishable by one to five years in prison. The bill increases the penalty for disrupting a meeting, including by making "any utterance, gesture, or display designed to outrage the sensibilities of the group," to a Class A misdemeanor. The bill also creates a mandatory minimum sentence of thirty days in jail for someone who knowingly participates in a "riot." A "riot" in Kentucky is defined as a group of five or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct create a grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or obstructs law enforcement. As such, a person could face a mandatory sentence even if they did not engage in violence themselves, no one was injured, and no substantial property damage occurred. Under the bill, there is a presumption that a person shall not be released from custody for at least 12 hours if they have been charged with obstructing a highway or public passage, disrupting a meeting, or participating in a "riot." This provides police and prosecutors wide discretion to detain protesters even if they have not been charged with any violence or convicted of any crime. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 23 Feb 2021; Expired with end of 2021 session

Issue(s): Riot, Traffic Interference

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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 newly criminalizes using "offensive or derisive words" to "taunt[]" or "insult[]" a law enforcement officer. 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-defense 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: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Feb 2021; Approved by Senate 11 March 2021; Expired with end of 2021 session

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: defeated / expired

Introduced 5 Jan 2021; Expired with end of 2021 session

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: defeated / expired

Introduced 22 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Maryland

HB 198: New penalties for protests that "disturb the peace"

Would dramatically expand the definition of "disturbing the peace" such that it could be applied to protests in a number of contexts. Under the bill, the offense is revised to broadly prohibit intentionally causing or recklessly creating a risk of "public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm," by conduct including: engaging in "tumultuous or threatening behavior;" "making unreasonable noise;" "disturbing" any lawful meeting or gathering; or obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic. As revised, the offense could apply to protesters who are deemed "threatening" or "unreasonably" noisy; it could also apply to a protest that "disturbs" a government hearing or "obstructs" pedestrians on a public sidewalk. The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two months in jail and a $500 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 1 Nov 2020; Withdrawn by sponsor 2 March 2021

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Massachusetts

HB 1586: New penalties for protests that block roads

Would penalize "any person who intentionally blocks or prevents access to a public roadway or highway while protesting with the express purpose of preventing passage of others." Under the bill, anyone who intentionally blocked a public road in the course of a protest could be sentenced to up to ten years in prison. This bill is near identical to HB 1428 introduced in 2019. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 28 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Massachusetts

HB 1428: New penalties for protests that block roads

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Massachusetts

HB 3284: New criminal liability for deaths during protests

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Massachusetts

S 1036: Heightened penalties for blocking traffic

Would penalize anyone who obstructs or attempts to obstruct "the normal movement of traffic, commerce, or any emergency medical services on a limited access or express state highway" in a manner that is dangerous to the general public. Under the bill, whoever commits this act could be punished up to 10 years in jail. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Massachusetts

HB 916: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 30 Jun 2017.

Issue(s): Security Costs, Traffic Interference

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Minnesota

HF 1967 / 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 1967 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. HF 303, also introduced in 2021, shares the same language as HF 1967. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Mar 2021.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Minnesota

HF 390: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would heighten potential penalties for protesters who intentionally disrupt traffic on a freeway or a roadway on airport property. The version of HF 390 introduced in the 2019-2020 session uses a definition of the offense that is similar to that of HF 390 from the 2017-2018 session, and would result in the same sanctions: 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. The provisions would be added to Minnesota statutes on public nuisance, however, rather than those on roads and right-of-way. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 28 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Minnesota

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

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Feb 2017.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Minnesota

HF 896/SF 803: Heightened penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would have increased penalties for protestors who intentionally obstruct highway or public roadway access to airports. Under the bill, such obstruction is classified as a gross misdemeanor rather than a misdemeanor. The bill, an omnibus public safety measure, incorporates language from two previously proposed bills aimed at heightening penalties on protesters. It would have allowed prosecutors to seek a $3,000 fine and one year of jail time for protesters intentionally blocking or interfering with traffic on a highway or public roadway within the boundaries of airport property. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Feb 2017; Vetoed by Governor Dayton 15 May 2017

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Minnesota

HF 390: Heightened penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would have increased penalties for protesters who intentionally obstruct highways or public roadway access to airports, or interfered with a transit operator. Under the bill, the offense of highway or airport access obstruction would have been a gross misdemeanor rather than a misdemeanor, punishable by a $3,000 fine and one year in jail. Provisions added to the bill during the 2018 session--following a high-profile incident in which protesters sat on light-rail tracks--would have broadened the offense of "unlawful interference with a transit operator" to include any act that "restricts passenger access to the transit vehicle." Penalties for that offense would likewise be increased to a $3,000 fine and one year in jail. In his message vetoing the bill, Governor Dayton cited the bill's vague provisions as well as the fact that the offenses were already prohibited and subject to sufficient sanctions under Minnesota law. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 23 Jan 2017; Approved by House 8 May 2018; Approved by Senate 14 May 2018; Vetoed by Governor Dayton 19 May 2018

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Mississippi

SB 2374: New penalties for protest organizers and protestors who fail to disperse, interfere with traffic, or "deface" monuments, and a legal shield for drivers who hit people at protests

Would create a vaguely defined new felony offense, "violent or disorderly assembly," that could cover peaceful protesters. The offense is defined as either a) a group of 10 or more people who refuse to heed a lawful order to disperse; or b) a group of 10 or more people who create an "mmediate danger of damage to property" or personal injury, who "obstruct" law enforcement or other government services, and who "disturbs any person in the enjoyment of a legal right." Anyone who participates in, "incites," "organizes, promotes, encourages," "commits any act in furtherance of," or intentionally "aids or abets any person in inciting or participating in" a "violent or disorderly assembly" is guilty of a felony, punishable by up to 2 years in prison. The breadth and vagueness of the offence could cover, for instance, someone on social media whose post is deemed to have "encouraged" a crowd to stay and protest despite law enforcement's order to disperse. The bill includes new penalties for protests that interfere with traffic on roads and highways, including up to one year in jail for 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, or a protest that was deemed a "violent or disorderly assembly." The bill would shield a driver who unintentionally injured or killed someone while trying to "escape a mob" during an unpermitted protest or a "violent or disorderly assembly." If enacted, those provisions 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." The bill creates a new felony offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for anyone who "defaces" or "vandalizes" a monument during a "violent or disorderly assembly." The bill creates another offense, punishable by up to one year in jail, for anyone who "harasses" or "intimidate[s]" another person at a public accommodation during a "violent or disorderly assembly." The bill strips unemployment assistance from anyone convicted of the offenses described above; anyone convicted of the above offenses is also barred from holding state or local government employment. The bill would newly allow claims against local government entities and officials for the failure to protect individuals from injury or property damage caused by a riot or "violent or disorderly 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. Finally, the bill would newly add "violent or disorderly assembly" and all related offenses described above to the crimes that can be prosecuted for "racketeering activity" under Mississippi's RICO statute. As a result, an organization or individual found to have "conspired" with individuals to engage in or encourage a protest that is deemed a "violent or disorderly assembly" could be prosecuted under RICO, and subject to felony penalties. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 15 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): Conspiracy, Driver Immunity, Riot, Traffic Interference, State Liability, Limit on Public Benefits

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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: defeated / expired

Introduced 12 Jan 2021; Approved by Senate 4 February 2021; Died in committee 2 March 2021

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Mississippi

HB 83: New penalties for protestors who interfere with traffic and a legal shield for drivers and others who injure or kill protesters

Would create a vaguely defined new felony offense, "violent or disorderly assembly" that could cover peaceful protesters. The offense is defined as conduct by seven or more assembled people that creates an "immediate danger of damage to property" or personal injury, or that "substantially obstructs law enforcement or other governmental functions or services." The offense would be punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The vagueness of the definition would allow authorities broad discretion to determine what constitutes, for instance, "creat[ing] an immediate danger" of property damage or injury. The bill includes new penalties for protests that interfere with traffic on roads and sidewalks, including a felony offense for "interfering with the regular flow of vehicular traffic" during a "violent or disorderly assembly." Under the bill, a driver who injures or kills someone who "obstructs or interferes with" traffic during an unpermitted protest or a "violent or disorderly assembly" is not criminally or civilly liable, as long as the driver did not do so "intentionally." The bill strips unemployment assistance from any person who is convicted of or pleads guilty or nolo contendere to a number of protest-related offenses, including "violent or disorderly assembly," and requires that government employees found guilty of violating any of the bill's provisions be fired from their positions. The bill precludes civil lawsuits against the state by anyone convicted of "unlawfully participating in a riot, unlawful assembly, public demonstration, mob violence, or civil disobedience," if the claim arises out of that conduct. Further, the bill creates a new civil right of action against local governments by any "victim" of "violent or unlawful assembly" or other protest-related offenses, if the local government "failed or was grossly negligent" in policing a riot or "violent or disorderly assembly" - 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. The bill would newly add "violent or disorderly assembly" to the underlying crimes that can be prosecuted for "racketeering activity" under Mississippi's RICO statute, such that an organization or individual found to have "conspired" with individuals to engage in a protest that is deemed a "violent or disorderly assembly" could be prosecuted under RICO, and subject to felony penalties. Finally, the bill would amend Mississippi's law on "justifiable homicide," creating a new legal justification for anyone who uses deadly force to "necessarily" defend their business "where there is looting, rioting" or other offenses created under the bill, including the defacing of public property. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 7 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): Conspiracy, Driver Immunity, Riot, Traffic Interference, State Liability, Limit on Public Benefits

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Mississippi

SB 2474: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would create a new offense of "maliciously impeding traffic on a public road." According to the bill, the obstruction of a public road or highway by a person "sitting, standing, or lying" would be a misdemeanor punishable by a six-month prison sentence or a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Like SB 2730--the version of the bill introduced in the 2017-2018 session--SB 2474 both creates a new offense and expands the scope of its application to include blockages of public roads, not just highways. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 21 Jan 2019; Died in committee 5 February 2019

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Mississippi

SB 2730: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would have created the felony crime of "maliciously impeding traffic on a public road." The obstructing of a public road or highway by a person "sitting, standing, or lying" would be punishable by a five-year prison sentence or a fine of up to $10,000, or both. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 16 Jan 2017; Failed in senate committee 31 Jan 2017

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Missouri

HB 1441: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would increase the penalty for obstructing a public street or highway to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. A second offense would be a Class E felony, punishable by one to four years in prison. If a person commits "unlawful traffic interference" on an interstate highway, it is a Class E felony, punishable on the first offense by a suspended sentence of probation for five years, 100 hours of community service, and a fine of up to $750. The offense of traffic interference on any public street, highway, or interstate highway while part of an "unlawful assembly" is a class D felony. For a first offence the court shall impose a term of supervised probation of five years, one hundred hours of community service, and a fine of up to $1,000. An "unlawful assembly" is defined under the bill as two or more persons meeting with the purpose of violating any law, such as the prohibition on traffic interference. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 1 Mar 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: defeated / expired

Introduced 1 Dec 2020.

Issue(s): Conspiracy, Driver Immunity, Riot, Traffic Interference, Trespass

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Missouri

SB 9: Heightened penalties for blocking roads

Would criminalize protests that block traffic as "unlawful traffic interference" and provide for harsh penalties. Under the bill, a person's intentional blocking of traffic on a public street or highway, whether with her body or an object, is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $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. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 27 Jul 2020.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Missouri

HB 288: Expanded definition for "unlawful assembly" and new penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would dramatically increase potential penalties for individuals who protest on public streets or highways, by expanding the definition of "unlawful assembly" and creating the crime of "unlawful traffic interference." The bill broadly defines an "unlawful assembly" as two or more people who meet "for the purpose of violating any of the criminal laws" of Missouri or the U.S. (Current Missouri law requires six people who assemble to violate criminal laws with force or violence.) The bill provides that commission of unlawful traffic interference while participating in an unlawful assembly is a Class D felony, which is subject to up to seven years in prison. Prefiled on December 18, 2018, in advance of the 2019 session, the bill is substantially the same as the expired bill HB 2145, but would make a first offense of unlawful traffic interference while participating in an unlawful assembly subject to a suspended sentence, with supervised probation for five years, 100 hours of community service, and a fine of up to $1,000. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 4 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Missouri

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

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 17 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Missouri

SB 813: Heightened penalties for protesters who block highways

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 3 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Missouri

HB 1259: Heightened penalties for blocking traffic

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 1 Dec 2017.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Missouri

SB 26: heightened penalties for blocking roads

Note: This bill received later amendments that removed entirely the provisions related to "unlawful traffic interference". 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: enacted with improvements

Introduced 1 Dec 2020; Approved by Senate 25 February 2021; Approved by House 4 May 2021

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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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: defeated / expired

Introduced 23 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): Conspiracy, Driver Immunity, Riot, Traffic Interference

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New Jersey

S 3992: Expanded Definition of 'Riot' and New Penalties for Protesters

Enlarges the legal definition of "riot," a crime of the third degree, to include any group of three or more individuals whose shared intent to engage in disorderly and violent conduct results in "imminent 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 new law, a "riot" consisting of 25 or more people, or one that "endangers the safe movement of a vehicle," is automatically an "aggravated riot," a new crime of the second degree under the law. As such, large groups of protesters or ones that block traffic, even temporarily, could face up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. Under the new law, "inciting" someone to participate in a riot is a crime of the third degree, punishable by 5 years in prison. “Aggravated incitement”, which results if there is property damage over $5,000 is a crime of the second degree, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The law 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 or refrain from doing any act," or "assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint" against their will. The offense is a disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment, a fine of $1000, or both. The law creates a new crime of the third degree, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, for anyone who "purposefully, knowingly, or recklessly defaces, injures, or otherwise damages" statues, flags, paintings, displays, or other "memorials" and the value of the damage is more than $200. 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. Someone convicted of the crime also must pay restitution of the full cost to repair or replace the monument. Further, the law 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." Finally, the law creates a new civil right of action against a municipal government that fails to provide "respond appropriately to protect persons and property 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 24 Jun 2021.

Issue(s): Driver Immunity, Police Response, Riot, Traffic Interference

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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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North Carolina

HB 249: Criminalizing certain protests as "economic terrorism"

Would have targeted protests that obstruct roadways by newly criminalizing "economic terrorism," defined as the willful or reckless commission of a criminal offense that impedes or disrupts the regular course of business and results in damages of over $1,000. Per the bill, commission of economic terrorism is a Class H felony, punishable by 4 to 25 months in prison. The bill also makes an individual participant civilly liable for the costs incurred by the state in responding to an unlawful assembly, riot, or obstruction of traffic (e.g., during a protest); the individual could be charged in a civil action for related legal, administrative, and court costs as well. Criminal penalties are heightened for individuals who obstruct traffic by standing, sitting, or lying in a street or highway, as well as for those who remain at the scene of a riot or unlawful assembly after being warned to disperse; under the bill, both are punishable by up to 150 days in jail and a discretionary fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 2 Mar 2017; Failed in committee 25 April 2017

Issue(s): Security Costs, Terrorism, Traffic Interference

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North Dakota

HB 1203: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would have eliminated the liability of a motorist who causes "injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway," as long as the motorist did so unintentionally. Under the bill, such a motorist would not be liable for any damages nor guilty of an offense. Accordingly, the bill would allow motorists to strike and even kill protesters without liability as long as the collision was negligent or accidental. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 16 Jan 2017; Failed in House on 13 Feb 2017

Issue(s): Driver Immunity, Traffic Interference

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North Dakota

HB 1193: Expanding Traffic Interference to Commercial Activity and Creating a New Crime of Causing Economic Harm

Would expand traffic interference to include obstructing a private facility or private commercial equipment. Would also create a new Class C felony offense of committing a misdemeanor with the intent to cause "economic harm" of greater than $1,000 to the government or a private individual. Economic harm does not include law enforcement costs and the law does not apply to constitutionally protected activity. A Class C felony is punishable by up to five years in jail or a $10,000 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Jan 2017; Passed by House 2 February 2017; Failed to Pass Senate 28 March 2017

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Traffic Interference

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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 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. Note: The version of the bill that passed the Senate removed the "material support" provisions and changed the obstruction of a public passage provision to require that the obstruction prevents an emergency vehicle from accessing a street and those obstructing the public passage have received and refused to obey a request to move. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 26 Jan 2021; Approved by Senate 2 June 2021

Issue(s): Conspiracy, Riot, Traffic Interference

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Ohio

HB 784: Excusing use of deadly force against protesters and heightening penalties for road-blocking protests

The bill would create a new civil and criminal defense for anyone who uses force, including deadly force, to escape from a "riot." The bill would excuse a person who "reasonably believes" they are in danger of imminent injury from a riot, from taking "any steps necessary to flee," and would justify their "using or threatening to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to escape." The provision could encourage the use of violence against protesters. The bill would also create steep new penalties for interfering with or blocking traffic during an unpermitted protest. "Hindering or preventing movement" of persons on roads (a minor misdemeanor under current law) would become a third degree felony, punishable by up to 3 years in prison and $10,000, if it occurred during a protest that had not received a permit, or a protest that exceeded its issued permit. The bill would also enable law enforcement officers to sue protesters and any organizational supporters of protests if the officers suffered injury or property damage as a result of a riot. Ohio law defines "riot" to include engaging in "disorderly conduct" (including "recklessly caus[ing] inconvenience [or] annoyance") with four or more persons "to hinder, impede, or obstruct a function of government" - definition broad enough to cover peaceful protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Nov 2020.

Issue(s): Driver Immunity, Riot, Traffic Interference, Stand Your Ground

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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

Creates new penalties for protesters who obstruct traffic while participating in a "riot," and protects drivers who "unintentionally" hit them. Under the law, a person who participated in a "riot" and "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 occurs. The law defines "obstruct" to include rendering the street or highway "unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous" for cars' passage, including by "standing" on the street or highway. "Riot" is broadly defined under existing Oklahoma law, to include a group of three or more people who make "any threat to use force." The new law also shields from liability a driver who injures or kills someone while "fleeing from a riot," as long as they did so "unintentionally," were "exercising due care," and held a "reasonable belief" that they needed to flee to protect themselves. Under the law, such a driver cannot be held civilly or criminally liable for the injuries or death they caused. Finally, the law provides that an organization found to have "conspired" with individuals who are found guilty of certain offenses; including "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: enacted

Introduced 2 Feb 2021; Approved by House 10 March 2021; Approved by Senate 14 April 2021; Signed by Governor Stitt 21 April 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 1822: Restrictions on protests near the State Capitol

Would introduce new restrictions on "all demonstrations or events" in and around the buildings and grounds that make up Oklahoma's State Capitol Park complex, including the Capitol building itself. Within that zone, the bill prohibits "assembling" or "congregating" in a way that "obstruct[s]" sidewalks, walkways, or entrances or exits to buildings. This prohibition could be implemented to effectively bar protests that take place on or spill onto sidewalks or take place near any building entrances. The bill also prohibits the placement of tents or sleeping materials for the purpose remaining overnight. This would bar protesters from holding vigils and other 24-hour protests on Capitol grounds. The bill also prohibits affixing signs to any tree or structure; this would presumably include even protest signage that is affixed temporarily. Violation of the bill's prohibitions would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $500 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Feb 2021; Approved by House 8 March 2021

Issue(s): Traffic Interference, Camping

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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" - 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 Oklahom'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; Approved by Senate 8 March 2021

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Conspiracy, Riot, Traffic Interference

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Oregon

HB 3329: New penalties for protesters who block traffic or are convicted of "riot," including limits on public benefits

Would create a new felony offense that could cover peaceful protesters who block traffic. Under the bill, obstructing vehicles or pedestrians "on a public way" would be a Class C felony, punishable by 5 years in prison and $125,000, if committed during a "violent or disorderly assembly." The bill defines "violent or disorderly assembly" as a group of two or more people who cause property damage or injury. The definition would seem to cover a large demonstration where some participants commit even minor property damage. The bill also creates a new Class C felony offense for causing "alarm" by "engaging in threatening or intimidating conduct" at a place of public accommodation. The bill limits access to public benefits and employment for protesters, providing that a person is disqualified from receiving public assistance or being employed by the state if the person is convicted of "riot" or any crime that has as an element the fact that it occurred during a "violent or disorderly assembly." The bill also prohibits the immediate release of a person arrested for "riot" or for a crime occurring during a "violent or disorderly assembly," until the person appears in court. Finally, the bill waives the immunity of public bodies, officers, employees and agents for a civil claim arising out of a "riot," if the entity or individual was "grossly negligent" in protecting persons or property. If enacted, such provisions could encourage local governments and law enforcement agencies to adopt overly aggressive responses to protests, to avoid costly lawsuits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 2 Mar 2021.

Issue(s): Riot, Traffic Interference, State Liability, Limit on Public Benefits

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Rhode Island

SB 404: Mandatory penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would create mandatory penalties for knowingly or recklessly interfering with traffic on a highway. Under the bill, a first offense is a felony requiring a mandatory sentence of at least one year, with no option for parole until after 60 days, and a maximum of 3 years. A second offence is a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 3 years, with no option for parole until after one year, and a maximum of 5 years. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 25 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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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: defeated / expired

Introduced 8 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Rhode Island

HB 5690: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would eliminate civil liability for the driver of an automobile who hits or otherwise injures a person participating in a protest or demonstration, if the protest or demonstration was blocking traffic and the driver was exercising "due care." Civil liability remains if the driver's actions were intentional. The bill expired with the end of the 2017 legislative session. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 1 Mar 2017.

Issue(s): Driver Immunity, 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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South Dakota

SB 176: Expanding governor's power to restrict certain protests

Expands the governor's authority to curtail protest activities on public lands and restricts protests that interfere with highway traffic. The law enables the governor and sheriff to prohibit gatherings of 20 or more people on public land, if the gathering might damage the land or interfere with the renter's use of the land. The law enables South Dakota's Department of Transportation to prohibit or otherwise restrict an individual or vehicle from stopping, standing, parking, or being present on any highway if it interferes with traffic. The law also expands the crime of trespass, providing that an individual who defies a posted order not to enter a zone where assembling has been prohibited would be guilty of criminal trespass. Obstructing traffic or committing criminal trespass are classified as Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by one year in jail or a $2,000 fine, or both. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 3 Mar 2017; Governor Daugaard signed into law 14 March 2017

Issue(s): Traffic Interference, Trespass

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South Dakota

HB 1288: New Powers to Suspend State Agency Rules during Protests

Would add "protests" and "disorderly conduct" to a list of disasters that could allow the Governor to suspend the rules of a state agency. Under the bill, the Governor could suspend the rules of any state agency if there is an emergency beyond local government capacity and the provisions of the rule would in "any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action" in managing protests or disorderly conduct. In South Dakota, "disorderly conduct" includes "making unreasonable noise" or obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic. This change would make it easier for the Governor to suspend state agency rules in response to protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 6 Feb 2020.

Issue(s): State of Emergency, Traffic Interference

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Tennessee

HB 8005/SB 8005: Heightened Penalties for "Inconvenient" Protests and Protest Camps on State Property

The law heightens penalties for certain offenses that could encompass conduct by peaceful protesters. The law heightens existing criminal penalties for blocking a street, sidewalk, or "any other place used for the passage of persons, vehicles or conveyances" from a Class C to a Class A misdemeanor. Accordingly, protesters who obstruct or make it "unreasonably inconvenient" to use a street or sidewalk could face up to one year in jail. The law likewise heightens penalties for the existing offense of "obstructing" or "interfering with" a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering, from a Class B to Class A misdemeanor. Protesters who intentionally "interfere with" a meeting of the legislature or other government officials, including by staging a loud protest, could therefore face up to one year in jail. The law also targets protest encampments on the grounds of the Capitol and other areas by broadening the definition of "camping," and heightening penalties for camping on state property. As such, protesters who use or place any "piece of furniture," shelter, or structure on state property could be charged with a Class E felony, if they continue to do so 24 hours after receiving a warning. The offense would be punishable by up to six years in prison, a fine of $3,000, and restitution for any property damage. The law also amends Tennessee provisions on "riot," (which is defined broadly), including by requiring those convicted of "inciting" or "urging" a riot to pay restitution for any property damage incurred by the offense. When it was introduced, the legislation authorized the Tennessee Attorney General to intervene and prosecute offenses where there has been damage to state property, including those arising in the context of peaceful protests, if the district attorney declined to do so; however those provisions were removed prior to the law's enactment, and replaced with a requirement that district attorneys produce a report on such offenses and how they were dealt with. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 7 Aug 2020; Approved by House and Senate 12 August 2020; Signed by Governor Lee 20 August 2020

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Riot, Traffic Interference, Camping

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Tennessee

SB 0902: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Imposes a new fine on any person who intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly obstructs a public highway or street "including in the course of a protest" and in doing so interferes with an emergency vehicle's access to or through the highway or street. "Emergency vehicle" is broadly defined as "any vehicle of a governmental department or public service corporation when responding to an emergency," a police or fire department vehicle, or an ambulance. Unlawful obstruction of a street or highway was already a Class C misdemeanor subject to up to 30 days in jail; the law adds a $200 fine to the penalty. Sponsors made clear that the law was aimed at protests that obstructed highways. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 9 Feb 2017; Governor Haslam signed into law 12 April 2017

Issue(s): 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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Tennessee

HB 0668/SB 0944: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would have provided civil immunity for a motorist who injures a protester who was blocking traffic in a public right-of-way if the driver was exercising "due care." The bill, introduced in both the Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate, does not eliminate liability if the driver"s actions were "willful or wanton." (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Feb 2017; Failed in committee 22 March 2017

Issue(s): Driver Immunity, Traffic Interference

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Texas

HB 9: New Penalties for Protesters who Block Traffic

Would heighten existing penalties for anyone who "knowingly prevents the passage of an authorized emergency vehicle" if the vehicle "is operating the vehicle’s emergency audible or visual signals" from a Class B misdemeanor to a state jail felony. "Emergency vehicle" is broadly defined as "a municipal department or public service corporation emergency vehicle," a police or fire department vehicle, an ambulance, a vehicle of a blood or tissue bank, or a "private vehicle of an employee or volunteer of a county emergency management division." The law also requires that anyone convicted of preventing the passage of an authorized emergency vehicle must serve no less than 10 days of confinement even if the court grants community supervision to the defendant. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 25 Feb 2021; Approved by House 6 May 2021; Approved by Senate 22 May 2021; Signed by Governor 1 June 2021

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Texas

HB 2150: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would increase the penalty for knowingly or recklessly obstructing a sidewalk, street, or highway, or an entrance or hallway to a building that the public has access to, from a Class B misdemeanor to a felony in the third degree, punishable by two to ten years in jail. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 23 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Texas

HB 250: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would eliminate civil liability for the driver of an automobile who hits or otherwise injures a person who was participating in a protest or demonstration that blocked traffic, if the driver was exercising "due care." The driver may still be civilly liable if his action was grossly negligent. Bill 250 expired with the end of the 2017 legislative session. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 20 Jul 2017.

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: defeated / expired

Introduced 28 Jan 2021; Approved by Senate 24 February 2021; Expired with end of session 5 March 2021

Issue(s): Driver Immunity, Riot, Traffic Interference, State Liability

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Virginia

SB 1308: New penalties for protests on highways

Would heighten penalties for protesters who intentionally disrupt highway traffic. The bill creates a new Class 1 misdemeanor offense, punishable by one year in jail, for "intentionally interfer[ing] with the orderly passage of vehicles" on highways. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 12 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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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: defeated / expired

Introduced 17 Aug 2020; Expired with end of 2021 legislative session

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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Washington

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

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Jan 2017; reintroduced 8 January, 2018.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Wisconsin

SB 296 / AB 279: Broad new definition of "riot"

Would newly define "riot" under Wisconsin law such that peaceful protesters could face steep penalties. Currently, Wisconsin law broadly defines an "unlawful assembly" as a group of three or more people who cause a "disturbance of public order" and make it "reasonable to believe" the group will damage property or people; the definition specifically includes a group of three or more who assemble to block a street or building entrance. Under the bill, an "unlawful assembly" in which at least one person commits an "act of violence" that creates a "clear and present danger" of property damage or injury; or threatens to commit such an act and has the ability to do so; or commits an "act of violence" that "substantially obstructs" some governmental function, is a "riot." As such, a large street protest where a single participant threatens to push somebody could be deemed a "riot," with no actual violence or property damage being committed by anyone. Under the bill, anyone who attends a "riot" or refuses an order to disperse a "riot" commits a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a mandatory 30 days and up to 9 months in jail and a $10,000 fine. If the "riot" results in "substantial" property damage or injury, anyone who attends commits a Class I felony, publishable by up to 3 and a half years in prison. The bill also creates a new Class A misdemeanor for any person who "incites or urges" three or more people to engage in a "riot;" the bill does not define "incite" or "urge." Finally, if a person "obstructs" "any public or private thoroughfare," or any entrance to a public building while participating in a "riot," it is an additional Class A misdemeanor. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Apr 2021.

Issue(s): Riot, Traffic Interference

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Wisconsin

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

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

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 19 Jun 2017.

Issue(s): Riot, Traffic Interference

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