US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker, part of ICNL’s US Program, follows initiatives at the state and federal level since November 2016 that restrict the right to peaceful assembly. For information about our methodology, click here.

40 states have
considered
135 bills
25 enacted 2 enacted with
improvements
21 pending 87 defeated or
expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Oct. 16, 2020 (New York), Oct. 7, 2020 (Michigan), Aug. 30, 2020 (US Federal)
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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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North Dakota

HB 1426: Heightened penalties for riot offences

Increases the penalties imposed for riot offenses. Under the law, participation in a riot is a Class A rather than Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $3,000 fine. Engaging in a riot involving more than 100 people is made a Class B felony, subject to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 16 Jan 2017; Governor Burgum signed the law on 23 Feb 2017

Issue(s): riot

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South Dakota

HB 1117: New criminal and civil liability for "incitement to riot"

Would revise the state’s laws on rioting and replace a “riot-boosting” law that was passed last year but later blocked by a federal court as unconstitutional. The bill would revise the definition of “riot” under South Dakota law to be “any intentional use of force or violence by three or more persons, acting together and without authority of law, to cause any injury to any person or any damage to property.” Under the bill, “incitement to riot” would be a new felony offense, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines, and defined as conduct that “urges” three or more people to use force or violence to cause personal injury or property damage, if the force or violence is “imminent” and the urging is likely to “incite or produce” the force or violence. The bill defines “urging” to include “instigating, inciting, or directing,” but excludes “oral or written advocacy of ideas or expression of belief that does not urge… imminent force or violence.” Under the bill, individuals could additionally be civilly liable for riot and incitement to riot, enabling lawsuits against protesters by the state, counties, or municipalities. Both last year’s "riot-boosting" law and HB 1117 appear to target planned protests against construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 29 Jan 2020; Approved by House 18 February 2020; Approved by Senate 5 March 2020; Signed by Governor Noem 23 March 2020

Issue(s): riot

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South Dakota

SB 189: Expanded civil liability for protesters and protest funders

**Note: According to an October 24, 2019 settlement agreement that resulted from a constitutional challenge to SB189, the state will not enforce many of the provisions of the law that could be applied to peaceful protesters and organizations that support them.**
SB189 created new civil liability for “riot boosters.” South Dakota criminal law defines “riot” broadly such that it can cover some forms of peaceful protest; as originally enacted, SB189 created civil liability for a person or organization that “does not personally participate in any riot but directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence.” It was unclear what might have constituted “advice” or “encouragement” to carry out an act of force, such that an individual who shouted encouragement on the sidelines of a disruptive protest, or organizations that provided advice about conducting a peaceful but disruptive protest, might have been implicated. Following the October 24, 2019 settlement, the state will not enforce this provision.

Nonetheless, enforceable provisions of the law still establish civil liability for any person or organization that is advised or encouraged by another, and that “makes any threat to use force or violence, if accompanied by immediate power of execution” in a group of three or more persons. The state or a third party may sue the person or organization for extensive civil damages, including punitive damages. Further, enforceable provisions of the law provide that a person or organization is liable for “riot boosting” if they engage in it personally “or through any employee, agent, or subsidiary.” Accordingly, individuals, organizations, and funders may still be held civilly liable for substantial amounts of money for any involvement in a disruptive protest. Damages recovered by the state shall, according to the law, be deposited in a “riot boosting recovery fund,” which may be used to pay for the state’s response to disruptive protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 4 Mar 2019; Approved by Senate 7 March 2019; Approved by House 7 March 2019; Signed by Governor Noem 27 March 2019

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

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Tennessee

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

The law heighten 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

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West Virginia

HB 4618: Eliminating police liability for deaths while dispersing riots and unlawful assemblies

Reaffirms West Virginia's problematic law on rioting, and adds the West Virginia Capitol Police to those authorities who cannot be held liable for the deaths and wounding of individuals in the course of dispersing riots and unlawful assemblies. Under prior West Virginia law, the State Police, sheriffs, and mayors had authority to use means such as curfews and warrantless searches to disperse riots and unlawful assemblies; the law reaffirms and extends this authority to the Capitol Police. According to the law, if a bystander is asked to assist in the dispersal and fails to do so, he or she "shall be deemed a rioter." The law also adds Capitol Police to existing provisions eliminating liability if anyone present, "as spectator or otherwise, be killed or wounded," while the authorities used "any means" to disperse riots or unlawful assemblies or arrest those involved. The law was passed during a statewide strike by West Virginia teachers, thousands of whom protested in February 2018 at the State Capitol. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 13 Feb 2018; Approved by House 22 February 2018; Approved by Senate 8 March 2018; Signed by Governor Justice 10 March 2018

Issue(s): police response, riot, strikes

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