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Could protesters end up on the hook for public safety costs?

A protest erupted when the bill was voted through committee.

A bill that's being called anti-protest and anti-free speech passed a House committee Tuesday morning, but not without a protest.

The Republican-sponsored bill (HF 322) would allow authorities to sue protesters convicted of crime, in order to pay public safety response costs associated with the demonstration.

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, proposed the measure, citing protests at the Mall of America, the airport and on interstates 94 and 35W. He noted agencies have spent $2.5 million in the past 18 months dealing with protests, MPR News reports.

Zerwas has said he has "no interest" in cracking down on protests, but he wants to stop people from blocking freeways.

People protested in the room

There was pushback from Democrats and activists during Tuesday morning's Civil Law and Data Practices Policy committee meeting. Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, compared the bill to living under a dictatorship. Others have been tweeting about the bill, which opponents argue penalizes protesters.

The bill did pass the committee, but then the meeting abruptly went into recess because chants broke out in the room (see video here and below).

Rep. Omar encouraged people to contact their representatives and urge them to vote "no" on the bill. And after the hearing, the Star Tribune says she met with demonstrators and thanked them for coming.

The bill will now go to the House Public Safety Committee.

There is not a companion bill in the state Senate. (And remember, for a bill to become law, both chambers have to approve identical proposals, then the governor has to sign it.)

It's not the only protest bill

This isn't the only bill lawmakers are considering that aims to increase the punishment for protesters who break the law.

HF 55 would increase the penalty for intentionally obstructing a highway – it’d go from a misdemeanor (a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and/or $1,000 fine) to a gross misdemeanor. That’s a penalty of up to a year in jail and $3,000 in fines. The bill would also change the public nuisance statute to a gross misdemeanor.

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