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Freeway protesters would face harsher penalties under this new bill

The bill's author says interstate protests are a threat to public safety.

There's a bill in the Minnesota House that would increase the penalty for protesting on a freeway.

Rep. Kathy Lohmer, a Republican from Stillwater, authored the bill in response to those protests that have blocked interstates and entrance ramps, telling WCCO they are a threat to public safety.

Her bill 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.

Jordan Kushner, a civil rights attorney, told WCCO the bill is "very disturbing" and is an effort to intimidate protesters.

Activists have argued that blocking highways draws more attention to their cause because it inconveniences people – if they protested somewhere else, people might not notice, Market Watch reported.

Protesting on highways has become more common in the Twin Cities in the wake of the recent police shootings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile.

The most recent freeway-blocking protest in Minnesota was back in July, when hundreds of people walked on Interstate 94 days after Castile was killed. Dozens of people were arrested and charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor. They were also charged with riot, a gross misdemeanor, but those charges against many of them were dropped this week.

Lohmer's bill was read for the first time earlier this month and referred to the Committee on Transportation and Regional Governance Policy. It doesn't have a companion in the state Senate right now.

And for context: For a bill to actually become a law, the House and Senate have to pass identical bills; then the governor has to sign it.

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