Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / CC
Published April 30, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
Final budget negotiations have Tennessee legislators reviving a bill that will upgrade charges against protestors and will allow immunity in certain situations for drivers who run over protestors.
Earlier in the year, both the house and senate bills proposing this legislation died in the Senate. However, last minute funding during budget negotiations have brought it back to life.
If the legislation passes, it would become a felony to stand in a street and block traffic during a protest. This charge would be upgraded from its current status as a misdemeanor and would also come with a $3,000 mandatory fine.
Additionally, charges would also be upgraded to a felony if someone throws an object that hits and causes harm to someone during a riot. Misdemeanor charges were also added for intimidating or harassing someone who is not a part of the protest. The bill defines this harassment as something that causes “substantial emotional distress” that “serves no legitimate purpose.”
The bill also provides immunity to drivers who accidentally hurt or kill protestors who are blocking the street, as long as they are “exercising due care.”
When the state’s final budget passed on Thursday, $335,000 was approved for the funding of the bill.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville addressed concerns that some members had regarding some of the wording of the bill.
“We’ll see if there can be agreeable language,” said Sexton.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Paul Rose of Covington and Representative Ron Gant of Rossville.
Some legislators argued that the bill would give protection to drivers who were maliciously targeting individuals.
“If somebody specifically goes out there and they run over them with that intent, they’re going to prison,” Gant said.
Sexton stated that he would have to review the language to determine whether he was comfortable with the immunity provision.
Recent protests in Knoxville have brought the bill to the forefront once again, according to Representative Jason Zachary.
Because the Senate Judiciary committee chose not to take any action on the bill, it is likely that the Senate will have to reopen committees to review the legislation.
Sexton said the House will probably reopen several committees to address a number of pieces of legislation over the next week as the legislature wraps up their last days in session.