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Proposal would crack down on protesters who block interstate highways

Protesters block eastbound lanes of I-64 at Jefferson in the city of St. Louis on Oct. 3, 2017.
Protesters block eastbound lanes of I-64 at Jefferson in the city of St. Louis on Oct. 3, 2017.

The Missouri Senate is considering legislation that would target protesters who block interstate highways.

The bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor to block lanes of interstate or other limited access highways, punishable by fines between $1,000 and $5,000 and up to 30 days in jail. And protesters could be held liable in civil suits filed by patients whose ambulances are delayed by blocked interstate highways.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeannie Riddle of Callaway County, which is home to a rural stretch of Interstate 70.

“I filed this bill in response to many requests from constituents — the concerns they cited were being able to get medical treatment, emergency services, not being able to respond to emergencies, or being trapped on a roadway without the ability to exit to a safer location,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “To be frank, being stuck in a vehicle on a roadway designed for high-speed travel is never a safe proposition.”

Sarah Baker with the ACLU of Missouri disagreed. She told the committee that current trespassing laws are sufficient.

“The statute already covers impeding vehicular traffic as a Class B misdemeanor, and folks are already being charged with that and arrested based on other charges, too, for impeding traffic on a highway,” she said. “We’re also very concerned about the large fine and jail time ... we think that this is targeting a selective form of protest that might not be content-neutral.”

Baker added that the bill’s language is too vague and possibly unconstitutional.

The bill comes in response to protests over the acquittal of former St. Louis Police officer Jason Stockley in the fatal shooting of Anthony Smith. No action was taken on the bill Monday.

Follow Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

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