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Governor Mark Dayton vetoes bill that targeted tougher penalties for protesters who disrupt traffic in Minnesota

Opponents of the bill argued that it violates freedom of speech.

A bill that would've increased the penalty for protesters who disrupt traffic on Minnesota roads was vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton on Saturday night. 

The measure reached the governor's desk after passing the Minnesota House as part of a sprawling public safety and security finance bill earlier this month. It would have increased the penalty for blocking traffic from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, in addition to a fine of up to $3,000.  

Specifically, the bill targeted tougher punishments for those who block traffic from entering or exiting a freeway, public roadway or anywhere on airport grounds. 

Dayton says struck it down because language in the bill didn't clearly define which protesters would be charged. He also didn't like that protesters would be more harshly treated than people who commit assault.

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Rep. Nick Zerwas (R–Elk River), who proposed the bill in the House, accused the governor of a "flip-flop" on the issue, saying he's "bending to the will of fringe activists rather than listening to every day Minnesotans."

"Once again, the governor has failed to support Minnesota's law enforcement community, putting them at serious risk," he added, though DFL opponents said they'd not received any calls from Twin Cities law enforcement or prosecutors asking for harsher punishments.

Minneapolis and St. Paul DFLers were among the main opponents, arguing that protest is a key element of freedom of speech. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-Minneapolis) accused Republicans of continuing "their attempt to silence voices and to criminalize the very type of non-violent protest that African Americans used to bring about the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s."

One of 4 bills vetoed by Dayton

Sunday is the last day of the legislative session and there is every indication it's headed for a messy ending.

Major tax, budget, infrastructure and school safety bills are still yet to be passed, with the governor and Republican leaders at odds over various issues as the deadline approaches.

On Saturday, the governor vetoed four bills including the freeway protest one.

The others were as follows

– Chapter 147, HF 2940: The raising of water pollution fees would have required legislative approval, with Dayton arguing it would have given the Legislature "preemption" over his Executive branch. His letter to GOP leaders is here.

– Chapter 178, HF 2835: This would have provided $9 million to reimburse vehicle license center deputy registrars who say their offices have lost money because of the faulty new MNLARS state computer system. Dayton wants them to be reimbursed, but as part of a comprehensive bill that fixes MNLARS.

– Chapter 187, HF 3759: This would have required the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to approve the building and routing of the Enbridge pipeline project through northern Minnesota. Dayton says it would negate the PUC process.

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