Bill Protecting Drivers Who Hit Or Kill Protesters Stalled

Thursday, October 28th 2021, 5:46 pm


A federal judge puts a hold on parts of a controversial law going into effect Monday. 

House Bill 1674 allowed drivers to drive through demonstrators in the roadway, but it's not that part of the law that was ruled unconstitutional.

The portion of the law that describes legal repercussions for protesters who block roads and that it holds the organization they're associated with liable that the court has issues with.

"It's vague. You read the law and you can't be sure exactly what it's saying," said Sr. Council Joseph Mead with the Institute of Constitution Advocacy and Protection.

HB 1674 was set to go into effect on Nov. 1, but the 10th Circuit Court put a preliminary injunction on the law after it deemed two portions of the protest bill unconstitutional. 

The court said it violates First Amendment rights and that its wording is vague. 

"When First Amendment freedoms are at stake, we expect the government to pass law(s) that are very precise and carefully crafted to address some legitimate government harm," Mead said.

Part of the law’s open-ended language includes uncertainty in the differences between protesters and rioters who block roadways.

"We want to make sure that people who are leafletting, people who are approaching vehicles, maybe a block away and are walking towards a vehicle they shouldn't be subject to new criminal penalty unless it's carefully designed," Mead said.

Under the law. protesters can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $5,000. The law's author, State Representative Kevin West, argues the law is more than clear based on the language used.

"It's very important to know what section of law all of this language is in. It's in the riot section," state Rep. West said. "This has nothing to do with passing out leaflets or people crossing the street. I think we can all agree that there's a huge difference between a riot and a protest."

The second portion called into question is the part where an organization can be held liable and fined 10 times the amount an individual will face if a protester gets violent.

"Easily these fines could reach potentially millions of dollars,” Mead said. “An organization shouldn't be forced to risk the liability just to express its first amendment rights.”

West said it targets groups that can be directly linked to riots, not the ones who just held the demonstration.

The part of the law that won't charge drivers for injuring demonstrators will go into effect Monday, as Mead said they never challenged that part of the law. 

West explained that portion was written to mimic the Stand Your Ground law.