Republicans in more than a dozen states are attempting to criminalize the First Amendment with draconian legislation.
As the Trump administration continues to pursue policy that targets marginalized groups like Muslims, and tramples on the environment and indigenous lands like the construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, public protest is becoming more commonplace across America.
The outbreak of protests is causing some states to react by attempting to curb First Amendment rights for demonstrators with bills that make protesting a crime, or, in the very least, make protesting a tremendous inconvenience for dissenters. Here is a list of all the bills targeting protesters that have been introduced thus far, according to the American Civil Liberties Union:
1. Arizona’s Senate Bill 1142
SB 1142 would have amended the state’s organized crime statutes to charge anyone organizing a protest with racketeering if the protest turned into a riot. Under the charge, authorities could legally seize a protest organizer’s property, and even put a lien on the protesters’ home. The bill was referred to as the “Plan a Protest, Lose Your House” bill. Thankfully, the bill has been killed by the Arizona House, with Speaker J.D. Mesnard saying the bill would not be moving forward in his chamber.
2. Colorado’s Senate Bill 17-035
This bill, introduced by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-District 1), would make it a class 6 felony to tamper with oil & gas extraction equipment — which several protesters have done to stop oil pipeline operation — which carries a penalty of up to 18 months in jail and a $100,000 fine. An engrossed version of the bill narrowly passed the Colorado state senate at the end of February and now awaits action in the House.
3. Florida’s Senate Bill 1096
Florida Republican senator George Gainer (R-District 2) introduced a bill late last month that would make it a crime for protesters to block roadways, and that would absolve drivers who run over protesters of criminal liability. The Florida senate has not yet voted on SB 1096.
4. Georgia’s Senate Bill 160
The Georgia state senate’s public safety committee unanimously passed the “Back the Badge” bill in late February, which, among other things, makes the unpermitted blocking of highways, streets, and even sidewalks an aggravated misdemeanor, meaning that protesters could face up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted. Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle supports the legislation.
5. Indiana’s Senate Bill 285
In Indiana, Republican state senator Jim Tomes introduced a bill that originally would have allowed police to break up a protest blocking a roadway by any means necessary, “even to the point of costing lives.” The bill has since been amended to remove the “costing lives” provision and replace it with heavy fines for protesters blocking roadways. The bill recently passed the Indiana senate on a 34-16 vote and is now awaiting action in the House.
6. Iowa’s Senate File 111
Iowa Republican senator Jake Chapman introduced Senate File 111 in January, and the bill has since been cosponsored by eight of his Republican colleagues. The bill would subject protesters blocking highways to a potential five-year prison sentence, and is a direct response to a November protest in which hundreds of protesters blocked Interstate 80 in protest of Donald Trump winning the presidential election. The bill is awaiting action in a senate subcommittee.
7. Michigan’s House Bills 4643, 4630
These two odious bills would fine protesters $1,000 a day for “mass picketing” demonstrations that block the entrance of a place of business or a residence, and would fine organizations or unions $10,000 per day for organizing mass picketing. The other bill would repeal an existing law that requires businesses to notify applicants of an ongoing strike in the hiring process. While the two bills narrowly passed the Michigan house on a party-line vote, the bills have since been tabled by the senate.
8. Minnesota’s House File 322
This bill by Republican state representative Nick Zerwas would punish protesters convicted of blocking a roadway with up to $3,000 in fines and one year in jail, and would even sue convicted protesters to recoup policing costs. HF 322 is seen as a direct response to the wave of protests that erupted after Philando Castile was shot and killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez outside of Minneapolis during a routine traffic stop while his wife and daughter were in the car with him. The bill passed out of the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee on a party-line vote in January, and is awaiting a full vote in the House.
9. North Dakota House Bills 1193, 1203, 1293, 1304, 1426; Senate Bill 2302
North Dakota has been home to the nation’s most contentious protest for the better part of a year, as thousands of indigenous protesters and their supporters from around the country gathered near the Cannonball River to help the Standing Rock Sioux block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Governor Doug Burgum recently signed House Bills 1293, 1304, and 1426 into law along with Senate Bill 2302, which expands the state’s definition of criminal trespass and charges protesters convicted of the charge with a $250 fine, charges protesters with a $3,000 fine and up to a year in jail for wearing a mask without prior permission, allows the governor to declare a state of emergency for riots and increase penalties for rioting, and allows the state Attorney General to appoint “ad hoc” law enforcement agents from other jurisdictions.
House Bill 1203, which would have removed any and all criminal liability from drivers who ran over protesters blocking a roadway, was voted down by the North Dakota House. House Bill 1193, which would create an “economic harm” provision that would fine protesters for demonstrations that cause private businesses to lose money, was engrossed in early February and is currently awaiting action in the House Judiciary Committee.
10. Oklahoma House Bill 1123
Republican state representative Scott Biggs introduced House Bill 1123 in February, which would levy a fine of up to $100,000 against any protester and imprison them for up to 10 years if they’re convicted of tampering with “critical infrastructure” like oil pipelines. It would also fine organizations that coordinate such protests for as much as $1 million. An amended version of the bill passed the house on February 28, and is awaiting action in the senate.
11. Oregon’s Senate Bill 540
On the unlikely occasion Senate Bill 540 — introduced by Republican state senator Kim Thatcher — is signed into law by Democratic Oregon Governor Kate Brown, college students convicted of participating in any protest characterized as a “violent riot” would be expelled. The bill is awaiting action in the House Judiciary Committee, and has not yet been scheduled for a vote as of this writing.
12. South Dakota’s Senate Bill 70
Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard’s Public Safety Improvement Act was recently signed into law, which expands his emergency powers to aggressively crack down on protesters — particularly of the environmental variety. The bill was introduced in direct response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, as Republican lawmakers anticipated mass public protest in response to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
13. Tennessee’s House Bill 668
Tennessee Republicans are also aiming to intimidate protesters with a bill that would free any driver of potential criminal charges for running over a protester blocking a road. House Bill 668, authored by Republican state representative Matthew Hill, would immunize any driver exercising “due care” who hits a protester with their vehicle. The bill is awaiting action in the House Subcommittee on Civil justice.
14. Virginia’s Senate Bill 1055
The Virginia state senate thankfully voted down this bill, which would have upped the sentence for a misdemeanor “unlawful assembly” charge to a potential year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Republican Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment led a coalition of Republicans who voted against the bill, saying that existing laws on the books were already sufficient.
15. Washington’s Senate Bill 5009
Protesters in Washington state who are part in demonstrations that block traffic or disrupt business activities could be charged with “economic terrorism” if Republican state senator Doug Ericksen gets his way. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, though it’s unlikely to pass through Washington state’s Democratic legislature, let alone be signed by Democratic Governor Jay Inslee.
Tom Cahill is a writer for the Resistance Report based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email [email protected], or follow him on Facebook.