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
38 enacted 40 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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8 entries matching in provided filters in 1 states. Clear all filters
Virginia

SB 531: Penalties for highway protests and new legal defense for individuals who injure protesters

Would heighten the penalty for protestors who demonstrate on highways, by creating a new Class 1 misdemeanor offense for anyone who "maliciously obstructs" the "normal use" of a highway by standing or remaining on it or otherwise "hindering" its use. The offense would be punishable by up to a year in jail and $2,500. Under the bill, a person being civilly sued for wrongful death, injury, or property damage could newly assert an affirmative defense that the injury or damage was sustained by someone participating in a "riot." The bill also creates a civil action against government officials for damages caused during a "riot" or "unlawful assembly," if the officials prohibit law enforcement officers from taking action that would have "prevent[ed] or materially mitigate[d]" injuries or property damage caused by "or related to" a "riot" or "unlawful assembly." Such provisions could encourage authorities to allow overly aggressive law enforcement responses to protests, in order to avoid costly lawsuits. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 12 Jan 2022.

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

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Virginia

SB 1308: New penalties for protests on highways

Would heighten penalties for protesters who intentionally disrupt highway traffic. The bill creates a new Class 1 misdemeanor offense, punishable by one year in jail, for "intentionally interfer[ing] with the orderly passage of vehicles" on highways. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 12 Jan 2021.

Issue(s): Traffic Interference

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Virginia

SB 5079: New civil liability for law enforcement agencies that "stand down" during a riot or unlawful assembly

Would allow someone who is injured or sustains any property damage to sue the director of a law enforcement agency, if the person's injuries or damage were incurred as a result of the director ordering law enforcement officers not to take action in response to a riot or unlawful assembly. The bill provides that, in such lawsuits, a plaintiff may recover compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorney fees and costs, including costs and reasonable fees for expert witnesses. If enacted, the bill's proposal would create incentives for law enforcement to use more aggressive, provocative tactics against protesters, including peaceful protesters, in order to avoid a costly lawsuit. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 17 Aug 2020; Expired with end of 2021 legislative session

Issue(s): Damage Costs, Police Response, Riot, State Liability

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Virginia

SB 5056: Heightened penalties for remaining at an unlawful assembly or riot

This bill is a combination of earlier bills, ranging from SB 5057 to SB 5062. It would increase the criminal penalty for remaining at the place of a declared "unlawful assembly" or "riot" after having been lawfully warned to disperse. The penalty would be a Class 1, rather than Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Virginia law defines "unlawful assembly" broadly, to include a gathering of three or more people that "tends to inspire" a "well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order." Peaceful protesters who failed to leave the scene of such a gathering, after being ordered to do so, could accordingly face up to one year in jail. The bill also would increase the penalty for obstructing emergency medical services after having been requested to move to a class 2 misdemeanor as well as make it a class 3 misdemeanor to "curse" law enforcement officers performing their assigned duties. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 17 Aug 2020; Expired with end of 2021 legislative session

Issue(s): Riot

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Virginia

SB 5074: New penalties for protests that block emergency vehicles

Would heighten existing penalties for anyone who "unreasonably or unnecessarily obstructs the delivery of emergency medical services," or who "refuses to cease such obstruction or move on when requested to do so" from a Class 2 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, if the violation occurs at the site of a riot or unlawful assembly. Virginia law defines "unlawful assembly" broadly, to include a gathering of three or more people that "tends to inspire" a "well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order." Under the bill, participants in a peaceful street protest who failed or were unable to make way for emergency vehicles, for instance, could face felony charges if their gathering was deemed to be an "unlawful assembly." (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 17 Aug 2020; Expired with end of 2021 legislative session

Issue(s): Riot, Traffic Interference

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Virginia

HB 1601: Banning protests by members of domestic terrorist groups

Would newly define and designate "domestic terrorist organizations," and bar their members from assembling in groups of three or more. The bill broadly defines an "act of domestic terrorism," in part echoing the state's definition of a hate crime. The bill would provide for state authorities to designate as a "domestic terrorist organization" an identifiable group that aims to commit an act of domestic terrorism or whose members individually or collectively have attempted to commit an act of domestic terrorism. According to the bill, members of a designated domestic terrorist organization are prohibited from assembling in groups of three or more persons. The bill provides that such an assembly is unlawful, and any individual who participates in such an "unlawful assembly" (whether a member or not) could be charged with a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If an individual carries a firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon while participating in such an "unlawful assembly" of domestic terrorist group members, they are subject to a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, which helped draft the bill, indicated that it was prompted by the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on August 12. Critics of the bill have noted that the broad language of the bill could allow authorities to target minority communities who have "unpopular beliefs." (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 19 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): Terrorism

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Virginia

HB 1791: Expanded definition of "incitement to riot"

Would have expanded the definition of "incitement to riot" and heightened penalties for encouraging others to produce a riot against a law-enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel. Under the bill, encouraging others to engage in a peaceful protest that results in acts of force or violence against such officers or personnel is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 9 Jan 2017; Approved by House 26 Jan 2017; Approved by Senate 13 Feb 2017; Vetoed by Governor McAuliffe 28 April 2017

Issue(s): Riot

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Virginia

SB 1055: Heightened penalties for participation in an "unlawful assembly"

Would have broadened the scope of the state's anti-protesting laws. The bill would increase penalties for people who engage in an "unlawful assembly" after "having been lawfully warned to disperse," elevating the act from a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries only a maximum $500 fine, to a Class 1 misdemeanor, which could be subject to up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. (See full text of bill here)

Status: defeated / expired

Introduced 6 Jan 2017; Failed in Senate on 23 Jan 2017

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