We just witnessed a horrific scene in Charlottesville, Virginia when a rage-filled man used his car to mow down protesters, leaving one woman dead and 20 others injured. Meanwhile Republicans in six different states are trying to pass legislation that would literally protect drivers who hit protesters. Yes really.
The domestic terrorist attack in Charlottesville on Saturday was condemned by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. But it’s tough to figure out if the Republicans are actually being sincere. Their condemnations ring a little hollow when members of their own party in six different GOP-controlled states are trying to pass anti-protest laws, including protections for drivers who hit protesters with their cars.
“Two Republican lawmakers in North Dakota started the trend in January when they introduced a bill that would protect motorists who hit pedestrians blocking traffic, as long as the consequences are unintentional. State Rep. Keith Kempenich (R) said he authored the legislation after his mother-in-law was swarmed on a roadway by people protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
“A driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages,” the proposed law read.”
Fortunately, in February the North Dakota bill was defeated by a vote of 41-50. However this proposed legislation inspired five other states to come up with their own disgusting bills.
A driver hit some safety workers at a protest against Trump’s Muslim ban in Nashville this year. “Police said that five or six protesters ended up on top of an SUV before the driver, who was not arrested, left the scene.” So Tennessee Republicans proposed legislation that would protect drivers from civil liability.
But again, fortunately, the Republicans failed. The Tennessee measure died in a House committee in March.
Earlier this year in Charlotte, a large Black Lives Matter protest against the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott resulted in blocked streets and highways. So the North Carolina Republicans drew up legislation that would keep drivers from being charged if they hit protesters, as long as the driver was exercising “due care.”
State Rep. Michael Speciale (R) defended the bill saying,
“These people are nuts to run in front of cars like they do. If somebody does bump somebody, why should they be held liable?”
The North Carolina House passed this legislation in April by a vote of 67-48. The state Senate has not yet weighed in.
The Outline reports that Florida, Rhode Island, and Texas have also been trying to pass similar legislation.
In Florida, Republicans tried to prohibit lawsuits against drivers who “unintentionally” run into protesters, which would put the burden of proof on the protesters, not the driver.
The Florida bill died in committee.
A similar bill in Rhode Island is being held for “further study.” And the Texas bill that was proposed just last month was just referred to committee.
In addition to these driver-shielding laws, Republicans in at least 18 states have introduced measures to crack down on protesters. The Washington Post reports,
“Among those proposals are bills that would allow cities to sue protesters in order to collect money to pay police forces required at demonstrations, increase the potential penalty for nonviolent demonstrations, and increase fines against picketers.”
Senior staff attorney at the ACLU Lee Rowland called these bills unconstitutional. And she said,
“This is a marked uptick in bills that would criminalize or penalize protected speech and protest, and every person should be alarmed at that trend. We should also be alarmed by the attitude they betray, which is that when Americans get out into the streets and make their voices heard — recently, in record numbers — their elected representatives’ response is not to listen to those concerns but to attempt to silence and criminalize them.”