A bill to impose tougher penalties on protesters who block traffic on Iowa interstates and highways has cleared a senate committee with bipartisan support.
It comes in response to a November incident on I-80. Anti-Trump protesters marched from downtown Iowa City to the interstate, blocking rush-hour traffic. Senator Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, said the current $35 penalty for participating in that kind of a protest does not “fit the crime.”
“Over the last couple of years we’ve seen this to be a growing trend throughout the United States,” Chapman said. “I would encourage my colleagues to look up some of these videos of some of these protesters…seriously getting hurt.”
All the Republicans and three Democrats on the Senate State Government Committee supported the bill this afternoon. Three Democrats, including Senator Tony Bisignano (biz-ig-NAH-noh) of Des Moines, voted no.
“I in no way condone people that jeopardize other people’s health or safety, but I do respect the First Amendment and I do think this is an over-reach,” Bisignano said. “And I think it’s politically motivated.”
It’s already illegal for protesters to block traffic on an Iowa highway with a posted speed limit of 55 miles an hour or more. If the bill becomes law, the new penalty for a first time offense would be up to a year in jail and a fine of hundreds of dollars. A third offense would be a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
A handful of other states are considering tougher penalties for protesters, not just those who block highways.