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
256 bills
39 enacted 12 pending

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation

Latest updates: Feb. 3, 2023 (North Carolina), Jan. 30, 2023 (Minnesota), Jan. 26, 2023 (New York)
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10 entries matching in provided filters in 8 states. Clear all filters
Arizona

SB 1023: Vague ban on residential protests

Would amend Arizona’s law on residential picketing to criminalize demonstrations at an individual’s home that “a reasonable person” would find “harassing, annoying, or alarming”--regardless of demonstrators’ intent. Current law bans only demonstrations where the people demonstrating at someone’s home specifically intend “to harass, annoy, or alarm” another person. The vagueness of the “reasonable person” standard in the bill would make it difficult for protesters to know in advance what conduct was prohibited at protests in residential areas, and could also allow authorities to target disfavored protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 10 Jan 2023.

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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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Massachusetts

HD 1358: 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 nearly identical to HB 1586, introduced in 2021, and HB 1428, introduced in 2019. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 18 Jan 2023.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Massachusetts

HD 1348: 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. The bill is nearly identical to HD 3284, introduced in 2019. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 18 Jan 2023.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Minnesota

SF 935: BARRING PUBLIC BENEFITS FOR PROTEST-RELATED OFFENSES

Would broadly disqualify a person convicted of an offense during a protest from receiving public assistance. Any "offense related to the person's illegal conduct at a protest, demonstration, rally, civil unrest, or march" would disqualify the person from a range of benefits, including food assistance, education loans and grants, and unemployment assistance. Under the bill, a person convicted of even a misdemeanor that is deemed somehow "related" to their participation in a peaceful protest could face permanent disqualification from such benefits. Nearly identical text was introduced as HF 466/SF 2381 in 2021. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 30 Jan 2023.

Issue(s): Limit on Public Benefits

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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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New York

A 2309: Mandatory Sanctions for Campus Protesters

Would create new mandatory penalties that could be applied against nonviolent protesters at all state and city colleges and universities in New York. Under the bill, a student that "materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others" would face a minimum one week suspension for the first offense; a minimum two week suspension for a second offense; a minimum one semester suspension for a third offense; and expulsion for a fourth offense. As such, a student protester that was deemed to interrupt a speaker at an event would be required to be suspended. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 25 Jan 2023.

Issue(s): Campus Speech

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North Carolina

HB 40: HEIGHTENED PENALTIES FOR "RIOT" AND RELATED OFFENSES

Increases the penalty for an individual who "incites or urges another to engage in a riot," if a riot occurs and results in $1,500 of property damage or injury. In such a case, the individual is guilty of a Class E felony, punishable by more than two years in prison, even if they did not personally cause any damage or injury. Under the bill, an individual convicted of "riot" or incitement offenses is also liable to anyone whose property or person was damaged by the riot, in the amount of three times the actual damage in addition to court costs and attorney’s fees. North Carolina law defines riot to include a "public disturbance" by a group of three or more people that presents an "imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct," resulting in a "clear and present danger" of property damage or injury. Under this definition, no violence or damage need occur for participants in a gathering to be arrested for and charged with "riot." While the bill would add a limitation requiring an “overt act” in order for someone to be convicted of a riot or incitement to riot offense, that requirement could be read broadly to include peaceful chanting or marching with a crowd that is deemed to be a “riot.” Finally, the bill requires that a judge, rather than another judicial official, determine the pretrial release of an individual charged with a riot offense. The judge may hold the individual for 48 hours, and may require that they stay away from places where the "riot" occurred. The text of HB40 is nearly identical to the amended version of HB 805 that passed both the North Carolina House and Senate in 2021 before being vetoed by the Governor. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Feb 2023.

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Riot

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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.