A newly proposed Tennessee bill would give immunity to drivers who unintentionally hit protesters blocking streets

A newly proposed bill in Tennessee would make it even more difficult to protest in the state — by making obstructing a highway a felony and giving immunity to drivers who unintentionally injure or kill those in the way.

The HB13 bill, which was introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly in February, builds on legislation that already exists in the state.
It is already illegal to obstruct a “highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, or hallway,” but doing so results in a Class A misdemeanor.
      The newly proposed bill would make that a Class E felony, punished with up to six years in prison. At the same time, the bill would give anyone operating a vehicle who “unintentionally causes injury or death to another person” blocking a pathway complete immunity from prosecution for the injury or death.
        Tennessee tried to implement a similar bill in 2017, but the House version did not pass the Civil Justice Committee and the Senate version did not make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
          Other similar bills have been proposed in legislatures across the country, but most have not actually passed.
          CNN reached out to state Sen. Jack Johnson and Rep. Ron M. Gant, the sponsors of the Senate and House versions of the bill respectively, for comment. Jackson’s office deferred to Gant’s office, saying the bill is not yet moving in the Senate.
          In a statement, Gant claimed the new bill would protect Tennesseeans by instituting “law and order.”
          “This legislation promotes law and order and protects Tennessee communities against violence by safeguarding public roadways and increasing penalties for those who commit these reprehensible acts against innocent people,” Gant said. “These senseless acts have no place in a civil society.”
          The proposed bill goes beyond driver immunity and making pathway obstruction a felony. Under the new bill, “intentionally intimidating or harassing” someone during a “riot” who is not participating would be a Class A misdemeanor, as would throwing an object at someone “with the intent of harming.”
          And if that thrown object caused “bodily injury” during the “riot,” it would be a Class E felony under the new bill.
          In the past, the American Civil Liberties Union has condemned anti-protest bills such as these, arguing that they are part of a larger attempt to punish protesting.
            “Driving isn’t a right — it’s a privilege,” the ACLU wrote in 2017. “Protesting, on the other hand, and specifically protesting in the streets, is a fundamental constitutional right.”
            CNN reached out to the Tennessee chapter of the ACLU, but did not immediately receive a response.

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