JEFFERSON CITY — Protesters who block roadways would face criminal charges under a measure debated by state lawmakers Tuesday.
State Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, said during a meeting of the House committee on crime and public safety that protestors should not interfere with drivers.
Marshall, who sponsored the bill, said that the right to protest is vital to a democracy. However, he said, "in the last few years, we've seen peaceful protests and assemblies turn into mobs, which have breached the public peace and order and violated the rights of citizens."
House Bill 826 addresses part of that issue, he said. "That problem is the blocking of vehicular traffic, which is trapping citizens in their cars and unlawfully detaining them," Marshall said.
Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, protested in the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting.
"I would've had a felony if this law was in place," Franks said.
Franks fears that if the bill is passed, law enforcement could use it to break up all but the most peaceful gatherings.
"It just feels to me that we do have the right to protest, but only if we're holding hands and singing kumbaya," said Franks.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said traffic interference caused by two or more people should not be a felony.
"I'm not violating someone's rights. I'm trying to exercise my right to speak and to protest," Dogan said.
Dogan and others also said the measure is too broad and that its impact could reach beyond protests, because there are other reasons that people might be in a roadway.
State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, also said there are existing laws that could be used to deal with protestors in roadways, including trespassing.
The proposal includes a range of penalties, from misdemeanors to felonies, depending on the number of people and the type of road. The committee heard testimony Tuesday but did not vote.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.