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
245 bills
39 enacted 12 pending

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation

Latest updates: Jun. 2, 2022 (Florida), Apr. 25, 2022 (Washington), Apr. 11, 2022 (Alabama)
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14 entries matching in provided filters in 10 states. Clear all filters
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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Florida

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

**Note: Provisions of HB1 related to the law's new definition of "riot" were preliminarily enjoined by a federal district judge on September 9, 2021, temporarily blocking enforcement of those provisions.**

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 may encourage violence against protesters by creating a new affirmative defense in civil lawsuits for personal injury, death, or property damage, such that a defendant can 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 "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 may 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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Iowa

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

Introduces felony penalties for the offense of "riot," previously an aggravated misdemeanor, such that the offense is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $7,500. Preexisting 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 law also converts "unlawful assembly" from a simple to an aggravated misdemeanor. Preexisting 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 law, 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 law, 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 law 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 law 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 law 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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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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New Jersey

S 1206: Expanded "riot" definition, new penalties for "incitement to riot", and new legal defense for people who hurt protesters

Expands the legal definition of "riot," a third degree offense under the bill, 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 bill, 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 bill. 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 bill, "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 bill also creates a new criminal offense of "mob intimidation," defined as a group of three or more people who act with a "common intent" to compel "or attempt to compel" another person to "do or refrain from doing any act," or "assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint" against their will. The offense is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill could also 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 bill 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. The same bill was proposed as S3992 in the 2020-2021 session. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Feb 2022.

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

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New Jersey

A 456 / S 84: HEIGHTENED PENALTIES FOR BLOCKING TRAFFIC, RIOT, DISORDERLY CONDUCT, AND RELATED OFFENSES

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 18 months 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 seven or more people who engage in "disorderly conduct" and cause any damage to property could face riot charges, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and $15,000. The bill would create a new felony offense for disorderly conduct in a "place of public accommodation" that is committed during a "riot." It would also establish a felony offense for chalking or using graffiti on a public monument during an unruly protest: Current law penalizes purposely 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." (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 11 Jan 2022.

Issue(s): Riot, 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; Approved by House 16 February 2022

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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Oklahoma

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

**Note: Portions of HB1674 were preliminarily enjoined by a federal district judge on October 27, 2021, temporarily blocking enforcement of the law's 1) penalties for protesters who obstruct traffic, and 2) penalties for organizations that "conspire" with someone who is convicted of certain protest-related offenses.**

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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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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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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Texas

HB 9: New Penalties for Protesters who Block Traffic

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