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.

45 states have
considered
229 bills
36 enacted 53 pending

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Jul. 22, 2021 (Massachusetts), Jul. 16, 2021 (Missouri), Jul. 12, 2021 (Alabama)
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20 entries found matching the provided filters.
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.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot, traffic interference

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Georgia

HB 289: Restrictive permitting requirements, and heightened penalties for “unlawful assembly," blocking traffic, and defacing property

Would prohibits assemblies on public property that have not received a permit, seemingly banning all spontaneous, First Amendment-protected assemblies. Local permitting processes for assemblies on public property would require applicants to provide contact information for "individuals responsible for managing and maintaining order during the event" as well as an "emergency plan" addressing the "security resources" the organizer has devoted to the event. The bill expands the definition of "unlawful assembly" to include "two or more persons who harass or intimidate another person within any public accommodation." "Harass or intimidate" is not defined, meaning a boisterous protest in a public park or a university could potentially be deemed an "unlawful assembly." The bill would also bar anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from receiving state or local employment benefits. The bill increases the penalty for purposefully or recklessly obstructing any street or highway to a felony, punishable by at least one and up to five years in prison, and a fine of at least $1,000 and not more than $5,000, if the person convicted is part of an "unlawful assembly" and refuses an order of a police officer to remove an obstruction. The bill creates a new offense of "defacing, defiling, or abusing contemptuously" a state-owned or maintained monument or other structure during an "unlawful assembly", which is punishable by a penalty of at least 1 year and up to 15 years in prison, or a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. As such, a protester who chalked a sidewalk near a monument during an assembly that was deemed to be "unlawful" could face up to 15 years in jail. Further, the bill expands the state's "racketeering" provision to include soliciting someone to commit "unlawful assembly" or "riot," which is a felony punishable by 5 to 20 years in prison. Finally, the bill makes the governing authorities of a county or municipality civilly liable if they intentionally interfere with the ability of a law enforcement agency to provide reasonable law enforcement protection during an "unlawful assembly" or "riot." These provisions make it more likely that cities will aggressively police constitutionally-protected protests out of fear of costly liability if they are later deemed to be an "unlawful assembly". ***Note: HB 289 was originally a bill about drivers license requirements. Following HB 289's passage by the House, the Senate substituted anti-protest provisions that were originally proposed as SB 171.*** (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Feb 2021; Approved by House 26 February 2021

Issue(s): security costs, riot, state liability, limit on public benefits

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Illinois

HB 3409: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters at public universities or community colleges in the state. The bill requires these public educational institutions to adopt a policy prohibiting and subjecting to sanction any "protests and demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity." Additionally, the bill requires administrators to suspend for at least one year any student who is twice found to be responsible "for infringing on the expressive rights of others," such as through a protest of a campus speaker. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): campus speech

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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

HB 1558: New penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines

Would create joint and several liability for any person or entity that knowingly aids, advises, counsels, or conspires with a person who trespasses on critical infrastructure property. The bill would also create strict liability for any damages caused by a person who trespasses on critical infrastructure property. The bill would also create a felony offense, punishable by up to 3 years and a fine of $5,000, for a person that trespasses on critical infrastructure with the intent to impede or inhibit its operation. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 25 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): damage costs, conspiracy, infrastructure

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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 York

A 5121: Heightened penalties for "incitement to riot"

Would increase the penalty for incitement to riot from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony, punishable by up to 4 years in prison. Under current New York law, a person can be convicted of inciting a riot if "he urges ten or more persons to engage in tumultuous and violent conduct of a kind likely to create public alarm." The bill does not define what "urges" could include; similar language has been found by courts to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 11 Feb 2021.

Issue(s): riot

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North Carolina

HB 805: Heightened penalties for "riot" and related offenses

Would increase the penalty for an individual who engages in a "riot" if, "as a result of the riot," there is over $1,500 of property damage or serious bodily injury. Under this definition, the individual could be convicted of a Class F felony without having any role in property damage or injury. The bill increases the potential prison sentence from 25 months to 41 months. 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. In other words, no violence or damage need occur for participants in a gathering to be arrested for and charged with "riot." The bill also increases the penalty for an individual who "incites or urges another to engage in a riot," to a Class A1 misdemeanor, punishable by 5 months in jail, if a riot actually occurs or a "clear and present danger of a riot is created." If the riot does occur and results in $1,500 of property damage or injury (again, regardless of the individual's role), the individual is guilty of a Class E felony, punishable by up to 63 months in jail. 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. 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. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 May 2021; Approved by House 10 May 2021

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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North Carolina

SB 300: Heightened penalties for "riot"

Would increase the penalty for engaging in a "riot," from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class H felony, punishable by 25 months in prison. If the "riot" resulted in property damage of over $1,500, or serious injury, anyone deemed to have engaged in the "riot" (regardless of their role in the damage or injury) could be convicted of a Class G felony, punishable by 31 months in prison. The bill would not alter North Carolina's broad definition of "riot," which does not require any actual violence or destructive activity. Under the bill, peaceful protesters in a group of three or more who present an "imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct" that "creates a clear and present danger" of property damage or injury could face felony convictions and lengthy prison sentences. Note: A later amendment eliminated the proposed increase in penalty for engaging in a "riot." It also eliminated the proposal to make it a Class G felony for engaging in a riot that resulted in property damage over $1,500 or serious bodily injury. Instead, it replaced that proposal by making it a Class G felony if during the course of a riot a person caused over $1,500 in property damage or a Class F felony if the person during the course of a riot caused serious bodily injury or brandished a dangerous weapon or substance. It also clarified that "mere presence alone without an overt act" is not sufficient to sustain a conviction of rioting. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 15 Mar 2021; Approved by Senate 12 May 2021

Issue(s): riot

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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

HB 22: New penalties for protesters who "taunt" police

Would newly criminalize "taunting" an on-duty law enforcement officer with "reckless disregard" as to whether the taunting diverts the officer's attention. The bill does not define "taunt," and as such the offense could cover protected speech and chanting by protesters that even momentarily distracts law enforcement. Penalties for the offense, which the bill would include under the crime of "obstructing justice," range from 90 days in jail and a $750 fine, to more serious felony penalties. Note: Later amendments removed the "taunting" provision from the bill. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Feb 2021; Approved by House 25 June 2021

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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: pending

Introduced 25 Feb 2021.

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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Texas

HB 3599: New potential felony penalties for "terroristic" protests

Would create a new felony offense, "threatened terroristic violence," that could cover peaceful protesters. Under the bill, a person commits the offense if she "threatens to commit" any crime involving violence to property or persons, with a particular intent, including the intent to "influence the conduct or activities" of a government entity. Without a requirement that the "threat" convey a serious intention to imminently commit an unlawful act of violence, the offense could cover protected speech by peaceful protesters who are seeking policy change or other governmental redress. The offense would be a third degree felony, punishable by at least 2 and up to 10 years in prison. The bill incorporates the offense into other parts of Texas law as well, including the Education Code, creating the potential for student protesters to face disciplinary action based on their commission in protest activity deemed to be a "threatened terroristic violence." (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 10 Mar 2021.

Issue(s): campus speech, terrorism

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Texas

HB 2747: Heightened penalties for "riot"

Would make knowingly participating in a "riot" a state jail felony, rather than a Class B misdemeanor. "Riot" is defined under current law as a gathering of at least seven people "resulting in conduct" that either creates a danger of property damage or injury, "substantially obstructs" a government function or services, or deprives or disturbs someone in their enjoyment of a legal right. As such, an individual may be guilty of participating in a "riot" without actually engaging in or even intending any destructive or disruptive conduct. A state jail felony is punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Mar 2021.

Issue(s): riot

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Texas

SB 912 / HB 3652: New restitution penalty for those convicted of "riot"

Would require a person convicted of participation in a "riot" to pay restitution for "any damage to or loss" of property by reimbursing the property owner. The bill does not limit the restitution to damage directly caused by the defendant. As a result, a peaceful protester could be forced to pay to replace or restore property that was damaged by someone else in a large protest that authorities deemed a "riot." Current Texas law broadly defines a "riot" as a gathering of at least seven people "resulting in conduct" that either creates a danger of property damage or injury, "substantially obstructs" a government function or services, or deprives or disturbs someone in their enjoyment of a legal right. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 Mar 2021; Approved by Senate 27 April 2021

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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Texas

HB 2461: Heightened penalties for "riot"-related offenses

Would elevate the penalty for certain offenses, including "criminal trespass" or "criminal mischief," if an individual who committed the offenses was also participating in a "riot" at the time. Current Texas law defines "riot" such that an individual may be guilty of participating in a "riot" without individually engaging in or even intending any destructive or disruptive conduct. As a result, under the bill, a peaceful protester who trespasses onto government or private property, or who "makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings" on the property of another, could face a felony sentence rather than a Class A misdemeanor. The bill also provides that individuals charged with "riot" and those whom a police officer attests were engaged in "riot" (even if they were not charged with that offence) may not be released on bail except in the discretion of the court hearing their case. Such individuals would be lumped together with those charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault, and other severe crimes, who are currently subject to the same limitation. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 1 Mar 2021.

Issue(s): riot, trespass

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