US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker, part of ICNL’s US Program, follows initiatives at the state and federal level since November 2016 that restrict the right to peaceful assembly. For information about our methodology, click here.

40 states have
considered
135 bills
25 enacted 2 enacted with
improvements
21 pending 87 defeated or
expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Oct. 16, 2020 (New York), Oct. 7, 2020 (Michigan), Aug. 30, 2020 (US Federal)
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Tennessee

HB 8005/SB 8005: Heightened Penalties for "Inconvenient" Protests and Protest Camps on State Property

The law heighten 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

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Tennessee

SB 264: New penalties for protests near gas and oil pipelines

Creates new potential penalties for protests and demonstrations that "interrupt" or "interfere with" a pipeline or pipeline construction site. The law makes it a Class E felony for an individual to knowingly "destroy, injure, interrupt or interfere with" a pipeline, pipeline facility, or related infrastructure, including if it is under construction. The offense is a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and a $3,000 fine. As introduced, the law provided that an individual or organization that causes or “aids” damage or interference would likewise be guilty of a Class E felony, however these provisions were amended out prior to the law's passage. (See full text of bill here)

Status: enacted

Introduced 29 Jan 2019; Approved by Senate 18 Feb 2019; Approved by House 30 April 2019; Signed by Governor Lee 10 May 2019

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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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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Tennessee

SB 1750: New penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would penalize protesters who wear masks or other face coverings. As introduced, the bill would make it a criminal offense for a person to wear a mask, hood, or device that covers a portion of their face and intentionally conceals their identity, on public property or private property without the owner’s permission. The bill does not require that the person be committing some other unlawful act while concealing their identity. The offense would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The original version of the bill includes four exemptions: “traditional holiday costumes;” “lawfully engag[ing] in a trade, profession, occupation or sporting activity” that requires a mask, hood, or other device; theatrical productions, parades, and masquerade balls; and gas masks. Other expressive, First Amendment activity is not explicitly exempted. The bill was withdrawn the day after it was introduced. A co-sponsor of the bill said that it was "intended to target protesters and demonstrators who might commit crimes,” and that they would file a “clarified version" of the bill soon. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 21 Jan 2020.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Tennessee

HB 0668/SB 0944: Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters

Would have provided civil immunity for a motorist who injures a protester who was blocking traffic in a public right-of-way if the driver was exercising “due care.” The bill, introduced in both the Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate, does not eliminate liability if the driver’s actions were “willful or wanton.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Feb 2017; Failed in committee 22 March 2017

Issue(s): driver immunity, traffic interference

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