Emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 U.S. states have introduced bills that would crack down on protests and dissent after 2016 saw large mobilizations over a range of issues including the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and the months-long Native American action against the Dakota Access pipeline.
In January, the country also saw one of the biggest protests in history when between 3.3 and 4.6 million people turned up in cities across the United States for the Women’s March, which came just a day after the inauguration of President Trump.
Protests have also erupted in airports in several major cities across the country after hundreds of people were prevented from entering the U.S. following a now-suspended Trump executive order that imposed a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees.
Now that Trump has revived the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, while also issuing directives that grant police more powers and ordering the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants, the country is braced for another year of protest.
However, Republicans are working extremely hard in state congresses across the country to prevent a repeat of last year’s justifiable public outrage and unrest. teleSUR looks at five of the worst anti-protest bills that have been introduced.
Arizona lawmakers have approved a bill that could make people who organize or take part in protests that turn violent subject to the same criminal charges used to fight organized crime. The bill also seeks to seize protesters’ assets.
Republicans, who pushed for the bill, say it will help curb the kind of protests that have erupted nationwide over the past few years by penalizing those they term “paid” and “professional” demonstrators, a notion they share with President Trump.
Opponents of the Arizona bill say it is unconstitutional and will serve to harm Arizona’s reputation nationally.
"This bill only serves to chill people's rights to free speech by allowing one bad actor to turn peaceful demonstration organizers into racketeering felons," state Senator Martin Quezada, Senate Democratic Whip, said last week.
Republican lawmakers in the state of Indiana introduced a bill in January that initially required police to clear, by "any means necessary,” protesters from blocked roads and highways within 15 minutes.
The bill was changed last week, removing the phrase by "any means necessary” and instead granting police the power to fine protesters for blocking the roads. The Republican lawmaker behind the bill said it was designed to “limit traffic obstructions.”
Black Lives Matter members march to city hall during a protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nov. 24, 2015.
Republicans in Minnesota have introduced two separate anti-protest bills. One seeks to grant cities the power to sue protesters in order to charge them for the cost of policing demonstrations. The second bill could see protesters fined for blocking streets and highways.
4. South Dakota
As they anticipate renewed protests over both the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines, Republican lawmakers are introducing a bill that would expand the governor’s emergency response authority to “destructive” protests, create new trespassing penalties and make it a crime to obstruct highways.
If passed, the law would expire in 2020.
In order to counter peaceful protesters in the state, Republicans are introducing a bill that would protect drivers from liability if they hit protesters and injure them in streets and highways as long as the hit is not intentional.