Three states seek to keep highway traffic flowing in spite of political unrest by introducing legislation that would stiffen the penalties for highway protesters.
Bills to increase the penalties for blocking the highway during a protest have been introduced in Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota.
In Iowa, anti-highway protest legislation was introduced by Republican state Senator Jake Chapman. If the bill passes, protesters who block highways with a posted speed limit higher than 55 m.p.h. could pay as much as $7,500 in fines or spend as long as 5 years in jail.
Minnesota has very recently passed a bill that would make highway protesters foot the bill for policing costs. Republican state Representative Nick Zerwas said of highway protesters, “These individuals have broken the law. It is against state statute to be on the freeway.”
In North Dakota, Republican state representative Keith Kempenich introduced a bill that would protect drivers who strike or even kill highway protesters — so long as they didn’t actually mean to do it: “A driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway is not guilty of an offense.”
Critics of the new legislation maintain that the bills violate the First Amendment and that the right to peaceful protest is a hallmark of American democracy.