Photo Courtesy of Brigette Rec
Article Written by Joe Kryzston
Following the lead of nine other state legislatures nationwide, Virginia’s State Senate considered a bill that would have increased the penalties for remaining at a protest after being told to disperse by police. Senate Bill 1055 was voted down on Monday, January 23 after facing a bipartisan opposition, but not without debate and disagree- ment on the Senate oor.
The bill, which also proposed making obstruction of a highway
during a protest a class six felony, was introduced by Richard Stuart, R-Stafford. He defended his bill ve- hemently on the Senate oor, mak- ing a case for it from a standpoint of public safety.
“This is a public safety bill for us and the protesters, frankly,” Stuart said. “This has absolutely nothing to do with civil disobedience or peace- ful protest… This has to do with a riot, looting, pillaging, breaking into people’s places of business.”
Senate Democrats, with help from some of their Republican colleagues, voted overwhelmingly
against the bill, and it was defeated by a vote of 26 to 14. SB 1055, though now defeated, was part of a national move towards increased penalties for protesters. In the wake of widespread activist sentiment and demonstra- tion, such bills have been seen by some as part of a strategy to make activism more difficult and more dangerous. Most deal with increased legal penalties for protesters, but a North Dakota bill even goes so far as to waive legal penalties for motorists who strike protesters in a road, so long as the collision can be deter- mined accidental.
Though the Virginia bill was struck down, civil rights activists are still concerned about the national trend. Among them is Lee Rowland of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“What’s happening is a truly alarming spread of state legislation that, if passed, will have the intent or impact of criminalizing peace- ful protests,” said Most of the bills nationwide have been proposed in Republican controlled legislatures. Many see these legislative moves as another sign of these increasingly polarized times.