US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker follows state and federal legislation introduced since January 2017 that restricts the right to peaceful assembly. For more information, visit our Analysis of US Anti-Protest Bills page.

45 states have
considered
298 bills
44 enacted 27 pending

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation

Latest updates: May. 21, 2024 (US Federal), May. 20, 2024 (Louisiana), May. 17, 2024 (Alaska, North Carolina, Ohio)
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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 law, 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. Preexisting 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 new law 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 law 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 HB 40 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: enacted

Introduced 1 Feb 2023; Approved by House 8 February 2023; Approved by Senate 9 March 2023; Became law without Governor Cooper's signature 21 March 2023

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Riot

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North Carolina

SB 58: New penalties for protests near pipelines

Introduces new potential criminal and civil penalties for peaceful protests near existing and planned pipelines and other energy infrastructure. The enacted version of the law makes it a Class C felony offense to knowingly and willfully “obstruct, impede, or impair” or “attempt to obstruct, impede, or impair” the services of an energy facility. The law defines “energy facility” to include any facility involved in the transmission of “electricity, fuel, or another form or source of energy,” including facilities that are under construction or otherwise not functioning. As such, a group of people protesting the construction of a fossil fuel pipeline could face more than 15 years in prison and a mandatory $250,000 fine if they impede or impair the construction of a pipeline, for instance by blocking workers’ access to the pipeline construction site. Under the law, such protesters, along with anyone who “aides or abets, solicits, conspires, or lends material support” to their act of impeding construction could also face significant civil penalties from the fossil fuel company. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 1 Feb 2023; Approved by Senate 14 March 2023; Approved by House 14 June 2023; Signed by Governor Cooper 19 June 2023

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Conspiracy, Infrastructure

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North Carolina

HB 237: Heightened penalties for street protesters and masked protesters

Would increase penalties for protesters who block traffic and for masked protesters who break any law. The bill, which was proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee as a substitute to HB 237, would make it a Class A1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 150 days in jail and a fine, to willfully impede traffic while participating in a demonstration intended to impede block traffic on a street or highway. Second and subsequent offenses would be a Class H felony, punishable by up to three years in prison. The bill would also allow organizers of street protests to be held civilly liable for any injury resulting from delays caused by the obstruction of an emergency vehicle. Additionally, the bill would amend North Carolina’s existing ban on wearing masks in public to remove the exemption for masks worn “for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others,” and provide for enhanced sentencing of someone convicted of any offense if they were wearing a mask or other device that concealed their identity at the time. The bill’s sponsor cited recent protests on college campuses against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, where some protesters have worn masks.

(See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 7 May 2024; Approved by Senate 15 May 2024

Issue(s): Face Covering, Traffic Interference

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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. Note that a later version of this bill amended the language so that to be convicted of Class F felony rioting one personally would need to cause property damage of over $1,500 or serious bodily injury. However, one could still be civilly liable for property damage or injury one did not cause. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 3 May 2021; Approved by House 10 May 2021; Approved by Senate 31 August 2021; Governor Veto 10 September 2021

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Riot

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North Carolina

SB 335: Heightened penalties for protesters who disrupt meetings

Would expand disorderly conduct to include disturbing the peace or order of an official meeting of a public body. A first offense would be a class one misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days in jail. A second offense would be a Class 1 felony punishable by 3 to 12 months in jail. A third or subsequent offense would be a Class H felony punishable by 8 to 31 months in jail. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 23 Mar 2021.

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North Carolina

HB 333: New penalties for campus protesters

Would require that a student who is found to have engaged in certain activity during a protest on a public university campus both be expelled and have their state financial aid revoked for at least one academic period. Covered activity includes anyone who "unlawfully write[s] or scribble[s] on, mark[s], deface[s], besmear[s], or injure[s] the walls of any public building," statue, or monument, as well as anyone who willfully damages public or private property of any kind on campus. As such, a student could be automatically expelled and lose financial aid for chalking a wall during a protest. Eligibility for readmission and reinstatement of aid would be based on restitution for the property damage committed by the student. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 17 Mar 2021.

Issue(s): Campus Speech

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North Carolina

HB 321: Criminal and civil penalties for officials who withdraw police during protests

Would create new penalties for government officials who try to "stand down" police, including in response to protests and demonstrations. The bill broadly prohibits any elected official from "interfer[ing]" with law enforcement officers by causing or "attempt[ing] to cause" them not to enforce the law or not to defend persons or property. The bill's broad language could bar, for instance, a mayor from publicly encouraging police to respect protesters' rights and not use excessive force. Under the bill, an official who "interferes" with law enforcement in this way is subject to a $10,000 fine "per incident" and up to 30 days in jail. The bill also waives officials' immunity to civil suits in such cases if their "interference" with law enforcement's deployment results in property damage or personal injury. The bill provides that law enforcement officers are immune from civil and criminal penalties if they kill or injure another person "using reasonable force under the circumstances and acting in good faith to enforce the laws" of North Carolina. If enacted, these provisions could undermine local officials' ability to participate in decisions around the policing of protests and could incentivize aggressive police responses. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 16 Mar 2021.

Issue(s): Police Response, State Liability

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North Carolina

SB 238: Local government liability for lax law enforcement response to protests

Would open the door to lawsuits against local government entities that withhold or delay law enforcement services during a protest. The bill prohibits mayors, city councils, county commissions, and any other "government entity" from "prevent[ing]" or "delay[ing]" law enforcement from accessing an area during a "public demonstration." Under the bill, government entities that violate the prohibition may be held liable for damages proximately caused by the withholding or delaying of law enforcement. If enacted, the bill would require local governments to immediately deploy law enforcement to all protests and demonstrations, or risk a costly lawsuit. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 10 Mar 2021.

Issue(s): Police Response, State Liability

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North Carolina

HB 966: Limitations on teachers' ability to protest

Would restrict public school teachers' ability to use personal leave in order to protest. The provisions, proposed as part of a budget package, would prohibit schools from granting teachers leave on a school day unless they could confirm that a substitute teacher was available. Lawmakers introduced the provisions ahead of a Wednesday, May 1 rally expected to be attended by thousands of teachers from across the state, to protest for increased education funding. **Note: This provision teachers' personal leave was attached to an appropriations bill. The bill eventually was enacted, but this provision was removed in its entirety.** (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 26 Apr 2019.

Issue(s): Strikes

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North Carolina

HB 330: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would eliminate civil liability for the driver of an automobile who hits or otherwise injures a person participating in a protest or demonstration, if the person was blocking traffic in a public street or highway and did not have a permit to do so, and if the driver was exercising "due care." Civil liability is still available to the injured party if the driver acted intentionally. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 13 Mar 2017; Approved by House 27 April

Issue(s): Driver Immunity

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North Carolina

SB 229: Heightened penalties for threats against former officials

Would substantially increase penalties for threats and assaults against former North Carolina officials on account of the official's performance. The bill extends by one year the term of office of former executive, legislative, and court officials for the purpose of criminal provisions related to assaults and threats made against officials that are in office. Accordingly, threatening to inflict serious injury on a former official would be classified as a Class I felony - rather than a misdemeanor - for a period of one year after the official's term in office. The offense would be subject to up to two years in prison. The bill was sponsored by State Senator Dan Bishop, who had pledged to introduce such legislation after an incident over Inauguration weekend in which protesters shouted at a former North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, in Washington, D.C. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Mar 2017.

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North Carolina

HB 249: Criminalizing certain protests as "economic terrorism"

Would have targeted protests that obstruct roadways by newly criminalizing "economic terrorism," defined as the willful or reckless commission of a criminal offense that impedes or disrupts the regular course of business and results in damages of over $1,000. Per the bill, commission of economic terrorism is a Class H felony, punishable by 4 to 25 months in prison. The bill also makes an individual participant civilly liable for the costs incurred by the state in responding to an unlawful assembly, riot, or obstruction of traffic (e.g., during a protest); the individual could be charged in a civil action for related legal, administrative, and court costs as well. Criminal penalties are heightened for individuals who obstruct traffic by standing, sitting, or lying in a street or highway, as well as for those who remain at the scene of a riot or unlawful assembly after being warned to disperse; under the bill, both are punishable by up to 150 days in jail and a discretionary fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 2 Mar 2017; Failed in committee 25 April 2017

Issue(s): Security Costs, Terrorism, Traffic Interference

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North Carolina

SB 300: Heightened penalties for "riot"

**Note: This bill was later amended to remove all riot provisions except the increased penalties** 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: enacted with improvements

Introduced 15 Mar 2021; Approved by Senate 12 May 2021; Approved by House 18 August 2021; Signed by Governor Cooper 2 September 2021

Issue(s): Riot

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