State Politics

Should drivers who hit protesters be let off the hook? Old bills face renewed scrutiny

By Greg Hadley

ghadley@mcclatchy.com

Protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, are struck by a car on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.
Protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, are struck by a car on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. AP

In the wake of the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a driver appeared to deliberately ram his car into a crowd of people, a wave of controversial bills introduced in February and March in statehouses across the country are gaining interest once again.

Several months ago, shortly after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, dozens of high-profile protests took place across the U.S., leading to 18 different state legislators introducting bills that would curb protest rights in some way or another, according to The Washington Post.

Most of the legislators introducing and supporting such bills were Republicans, and many of the bills called for drivers who accidentally struck protesters to not be held civily or criminally liable, per The New York Times.

Thus far, none of the bills related to drivers striking protesters have become law. But shortly after the events this weekend in Charlottesville, where a group of white supremacists protested, then fought with counter demonstraters, activists drew a connection between the actions of the driver who killed Heyer and the perceived intent of the bills.

In Florida, State Senator George Gainer, who introduced a version that would ensure drivers are not held liable for hitting protesters who are in the street, was attacked Sunday on social media after he sent out a tweet quoting the Bible.

The bill Gainer introduced was shelved in committee and eventually died, as did an identical bill introduced in the House by fellow Republican Jayer Williamson.

In North Carolina, a similar bill passed the House on a 67-48 vote but eventually died in the Senate. The bill’s sponsor, Justin Burr, has also been attacked on social media, seeing his old Facebook posts hit with comments criticizing the bill.

 
 
 

Legislators in Tennessee, North Dakota and Texas who introduced similar legislation have also been accused by some activists of creating a culture where drivers may attack protesters.

Neither Gainer nor Williamson have addressed the events in Charlottesville explicitly on social media.

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