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 more information and an analysis of this data, click here. For information about our methodology, click here.

45 states have
considered
255 bills
39 enacted 11 pending

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation

Latest updates: Jan. 30, 2023 (Minnesota), Jan. 26, 2023 (New York), Jan. 24, 2023 (West Virginia)
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4 entries matching in provided filters in 4 states. Clear all filters
Arizona

HB 2059: Enhanced penalties for blocking traffic and other conduct during "riot" or "unlawful assembly," and new "aggravated riot" and "mob intimidation" offenses

Creates a new Class 6 felony for interfering with the passage of traffic while engaged in a “riot,” “aggravated riot,” or “unlawful assembly.” Arizona law defines "riot" and "unlawful assembly" broadly; "unlawful assembly" for instance includes merely being present at a gathering that includes two people who intend to engage in a "riot," and refusing to disperse. HB 2059 also broadens an existing Class 2 misdemeanor offense related to blocking traffic, to criminalize anyone who recklessly interferes with the “free, convenience and normal use” of any public thoroughfare. The bill creates a serious new felony, “aggravated riot,” that includes participation in a “riot” involving 25 people. The new offense would be a Class 3 felony, punishable by at least 2 and up to 25 years in prison. The bill would also increase the penalties for any unlawful conduct committed "in furtherance of a riot or an unlawful assembly." Under the bill's proposed penalty escalations, someone who commits a serious misdemeanor in a way deemed to be "furthering" an "unlawful assembly" could face felony penalties. The bill also creates a new offense of "mob intimidation," defined as gathering with two or more people and using or threatening to use force "to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against the person's will." The new offense would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. Finally, the bill provides that cities and towns have a duty to allow law enforcement to "respond appropriately" to protect property and people during riots and unlawful assemblies, and enables individuals to sue "for any damages" governing officials who breach that duty. If enacted, such provisions could deter local officials who might otherwise seek to limit aggressive law enforcement responses to protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Jan 2023.

Issue(s): Police Response, Riot, Traffic Interference, State Liability

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Mississippi

HB 34: 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. The text was first introduced as HB 83 in the 2021 session. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Jan 2023.

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

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New Jersey

A 4577 / S 1783: 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. The text was introduced as S3261 during the 2020-2021 session. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Sep 2022.

Issue(s): Conspiracy, Riot, Traffic Interference

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West Virginia

HB 2916: Potential "terrorism" charges for nonviolent protests

Would create two new, sweeping “terrorism” offenses that could cover nonviolent protesters. One new offense, “terrorist violent mass action,” is defined to include “violent protests” and “riots” that “appear intended” to coerce or intimidate groups, governments, or societies. The bill provides that “any person or group that participates” in such an action commits “terrorism.” “Violent protest” is not defined in the bill or elsewhere in the law, nor does the bill require that a person individually commit any act of violence or property damage to be culpable. As such, someone who peacefully participates in a nonviolent but rowdy protest where a few individuals commit property damage could conceivably face felony charges for engaging in a “terrorist violent mass action.” Likewise, a nonprofit group involved in organizing or supporting such a protest could be deemed a “terrorist organization” under the bill. Individuals and organizations not directly involved in such a protest could also face felony “terrorism” charges for providing protesters with “material support”--broadly defined by the bill as “any property, tangible or intangible, or service.” The bill also creates a new “terrorism” offense for “actions… taken for political reasons to bar other persons from exercising their freedom of movement, via foot or any other conveyance.” As defined, that could cover a large, peaceful march that even temporarily stops traffic; under the bill, participants in such a march could face charges of “unlawful restraint, kidnapping, and terrorism.” Meanwhile, the bill provides complete immunity for people who “injure perpetrators or supporters of perpetrators” while attempting to “escape” such “unlawful restraint, kidnapping, and terrorism.” This provision would seem to eliminate consequences for acts of violence against protesters by people whose movement has been blocked by a protest, including drivers who hit protesters with their cars. Additionally, under the bill, any person or group that conducts “a deliberate attack” on “critical infrastructure” also commits “terrorism.” “Attack” is not defined or limited, for instance, to actions resulting in any actual damage, such that any large demonstration near infrastructure that authorities want to shut down could seemingly be deemed an “attack.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 23 Jan 2023.

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Conspiracy, Driver Immunity, Infrastructure, Security Costs, Riot, Terrorism, Traffic Interference

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