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Tenn. Bill Makes Obstructing Highways a Felony; Drivers Who Hit Protesters Would Be Held Harmless

Follows law passed last year that increased criminal punishment for protesters disruptive to law enforcement officials...

A new bill in the Tennessee General Assembly would make obstructing a highway a felony.

The legislation would also provide immunity to drivers who accidentally injure or kill a pedestrian blocking a highway.

The House Criminal Justice Committee recommended passage for HB 513 on Wednesday.

Under the new law, if a driver “exercising due care” accidentally injures or kills a person blocking a Tennessee highway, the driver would be immune from prosecution.

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Instead, a person blocking a highway could face a Class E felony.

Class E felonies can face up to a $3,000 fine and are punishable by up to six years in prison.

The bill also creates three new riot-related offenses.

  • The Class A misdemeanor of, while participating in a riot, throwing an object at another with the intent of harming the other person;
  • The Class E felony of, while participating in a riot, throwing an object at another and causing bodily injury to another commits a Class E felony; and
  •  The Class A misdemeanor of, while participating in a riot, intentionally intimidating or harassing an individual who is present at a place accessible to the public and who is not participating in the riot.

The bill follows a measure Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed in August 2020 to increase criminal punishment for protesters disruptive to law enforcement officials.

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During a special session convened by Lee, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed HB8005, which states those who illegally camp on state property could face a Class E felony.

The punishment was previously a misdemeanor.

The action serves as part of Lee’s response to the growing violent protests across the nation in 2020.

Condemning violence against law enforcement in cities like Portland and Seattle, the governor supported the bill to show strong support for law enforcement.

The Senate version of HB 513 now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next step for the bill.

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