Proposed Tennessee bill would grant immunity for drivers who strike protestors blocking traffic

Tennessee lawmakers are set to vote on House Bill 513, which would create stiffer penalties against protestors who block traffic and offer immunity to certain drivers for injuries inflicted upon protestors.

The legislation would make it a felony with a $3,000 mandatory fine to obstruct traffic by standing in a street during a protest, an offense that is currently a misdemeanor in Tennessee.

Throwing an object that strikes and injures someone during a riot also becomes a felony under the bill, and new misdemeanor offenses are created for the offenses of causing “substantial emotional distress” to bystanders that “serves no legitimate purpose.”

Drivers will now be offered immunity if they strike, injure or kill a protestor who is blocking traffic as long as the driver was “exercising due care”, the law states.

“They have to practice ‘due caution’ which is as vague a term as I have ever seen,” said Angel Stansberry, member of The People’s Plaza, the group that organized protests at the Tennesee Statehouse after the death of George Floyd.

“This combined with the permitless carry is a way for them to encourage redneck vigilantism, and it puts our lives in danger. It’s already put people’s lives in danger, even without granting immunity to a driver. People have already been run over while protesting, Stansberry added.

House Bill 513 was dead in the Senate until it received last-minute funding of $335,000 in the final budget passed on Thursday morning.

“We’ll see if there can be agreeable language,” Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton said, about the reemergence of the bill.

Sponsors of the bill, Senator Paul Rose and Representative Ron Gant, are in the process of ensuring the bill has a path forward, including possibly changing some of the bill’s language.

“If somebody specifically goes out there and they run over them with that intent, they’re going to prison,” Gant said, arguing it would not protect someone maliciously targeting protesters for injury.

The proposed law comes as multiple Republican-controlled states have introduced and passed legislation cracking down on protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The Kentucky Senate approved a bill that critics said could criminalize insulting police. The Arizona Legislature is working on a measure that would stiffen penalties for violent protestors. In Indiana, a law passed that would prioritize the protection of statues and increases penalties on protestors who vandalize them.