In an early morning vote along party lines, with 79 votes in favor and 18 votes against, the state lawmakers passed House Bill 1674 that grants civil and criminal immunity for any driver who unintentionally injures or kills protesters while “fleeing from a riot.”
The bill would also allow protesters to be charged with a misdemeanor if they “unlawfully obstruct” traffic, punishable by up to a year in jail and $5,000 in fines.
Authored by Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore), the bill outlines punishments and fines for organizations involved in the planning of a riot.
Democrat lawmakers said their Republican counterparts were lashing out at protesters instead of taking steps to address systemic racism and that have spurred widespread Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.
Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa) called the bill draconian and accused legislative Republicans of intentionally bringing the measure up for the vote around 12:30 a.m. in order to avoid public scrutiny.
Republican legislators insisted they were just trying to protect drivers from riots or violent protests.
West said the bill is a well thought-out measure and not a knee-jerk reaction to recent protests. He even praised BLM protesters in Oklahoma City for largely demonstrating in a series of peaceful rallies over the summer.
HB 1674 promotes peaceful protests
Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow), who presented the bill on the House floor, said he supports the rights of Oklahomans to protest peacefully, but riots are unacceptable.
“This bill simply says, ‘please stay to the peaceful protests,'” he said. “Don’t block roads. Don’t impede on the freedoms of others.”
McDugle referenced an incident in Tulsa where a pickup pulling a horse trailer drove through a group of BLM protesters demonstrating on a highway. Several protesters were seriously injured, including a man who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from an overpass.
The Tulsa County district attorney did not file charges, saying several protesters attacked the pickup in which a man was driving his children. (Related: Should homeowners start shooting back at Black Lives Matter terrorists who violently assault them and their neighbors?)
McDugle noted that the driver acted out of fear.
But House Democrats pointed to larger, more complicated issues that have driven minorities to protest.
“Maybe the way to prevent something like this from ever happening again is to make reforms on the broader systemic issue,” said Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa), alluding to criminal justice and police reforms to address systemic racism.
Nichols, who is Black, said he dreads having to tell his 12-year-old son that the Oklahoma House “made it so that folks who may advocate for people who look like him can be run over with immunity.”
Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) questioned if the Oklahoma Legislature cares about “the real issues” that led people of color to speak out.
“Something happened over the summer,” she said, referencing racial justice protests across the country. “If we were honest with ourselves, stuff didn’t just happen over the summer. Stuff has been happening for centuries. Could we be reasonable? Could we try to get to the root cause of why people are in the streets in the first place?”
HB 1674 now heads over to the state Senate where similar legislation has been introduced.
Oklahoma state senator authors bill with similarities to HB 1674
Sen. Darrell Weaver (R-Moore) authored Senate Bill 806, which would make it a misdemeanor for protesters to block or restrict traffic on public streets or highways as a result of a riot or unlawful assembly.
Critics warned the bill could have a chilling effect on free speech.
Weaver said he’s a proponent of free speech, but he’s concerned blocking roadways could become a hazard for drivers.
“I don’t think anybody has a problem with protesters walking down the sidewalk with signs and doing whatever chants. I 100% agree with that,” he said.
SB 806 would also classify willful or unlawful touching of a law enforcement officer as assault and battery, which some have construed as bumping into or accidentally touching an officer.
“You have a right to peacefully assemble. That’s America 101. Just don’t lay your hands on a police officer. Don’t willfully do that,” said Weaver, a former law enforcement officer himself.
There’s another way to harm police officers without getting close to them. That is by doxxing them, or posting personal and threatening information about them online. (Related: It’s time to arrest people for “doxxing” others and endangering their lives and livelihood as political retribution, and we can start with Joaquin Castro.)
Sen. Paul Rosino (R-Oklahoma City) authored Senate Bill 6 to address that. The bill seeks to prevent the doxxing of law enforcement officers.
But Rosino noted that the legislation would criminalize only those instances in which a photo or video of an officer is posted with the intent to intimidate, stalk or harass.
“It’s just protecting the people who protect us,” he said.
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