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States are adopting measures regarding highway protests.

State legislatures are debating legislation regarding highway protests, with at least six states adopting measures to restrain such demonstrations on major roads. Federal legislation also addresses the issue.

South Dakota and Tennessee were pioneers in these measures, imposing jail sentences and significant fines for blocking traffic on highways. Texas and Florida followed suit with similar laws, while Iowa and Oklahoma granted civil immunity to drivers who injure protesters under certain circumstances.

Among the states that have recently taken action is Arizona, where the Senate passed Senate Bill 1073, state legislation that classifies blocking traffic that creates “inconvenience or danger” as a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to four months in jail. It is proposed that deliberately interfering with traffic on highways, bridges, or tunnels, or any road leading to or from an airport with at least 25 vehicles or people, would result in a Class 6 felony charge, with potential fines and up to a year in prison. The bill now moves to the consideration of the House of Representatives.

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In Minnesota, House Bill 1069 aims to make obstructing traffic on highways a gross misdemeanor, with penalties of up to a year in prison and/or fines of up to $3,000. The bill is being considered by the House Finance and Public Safety Policy Committee.

Similarly, in New York, Assembly Bill 8951 establishes penalties of up to seven years in prison for such offenses. This legislative initiative arises in response to recent protests that disrupted traffic on various bridges and a tunnel in the city. The bill is being considered by the Assembly Codes Committee.

Tennessee is another state joining in. House Bill 2031/Senate Bill 2570 seeks to increase penalties for intentionally obstructing a highway or street, raising them from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony. This latter category carries a penalty of two to 12 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. The bill is being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Criminal Justice Committee.

Lastly, in Washington, a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives seeks to permanently end highway blockades that pose dangers and hinder daily commutes. House Bill 2358 proposes establishing a gross misdemeanor for those who block traffic on a state highway without legal authority, with fines and/or jail time as a consequence. Additionally, felony charges would be considered if the obstruction causes risk of injury, prevents the passage of an ambulance, or if protesters refuse to disperse upon a lawful order.

In addition to state-level efforts to contain protests on public roads, there is a federal proposal in progress to classify the obstruction, delay, or intentional disruption of commerce by blocking a public road or highway as a federal offense. Offenders could face up to five years in prison.

Supporters argue that these laws ensure public safety by keeping protesters away from busy roads, while critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, view these measures as a violation of the First Amendment.

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