Monday, January 25, 2021

State Legislatures Working In Unison To Outlaw Protests

theintercept |  Elly Page had never seen anything like what’s happened in recent days. A senior legal adviser at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Page has been tracking the proliferation of anti-protest bills across the U.S. since Donald Trump became president in 2017. “The number of bills we have seen in the past three weeks is unprecedented,” she said.

Since the day of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, at least nine states have introduced 14 anti-protest bills. The bills, which vary state by state, contain a dizzying array of provisions that serve to criminalize participation in disruptive protests. The measures range from barring demonstrators from public benefits or government jobs to offering legal protections to those who shoot or run over protesters. Some of the proposals would allow protesters to be held without bail and criminalize camping. A few bills seek to prevent local governments from defunding police.

The pushes by close to a fifth of state legislatures are part of a pattern that began to pick up speed after the summer’s uprisings in response to the police killing of George Floyd, which in many communities included significant property damage. In a handful of states, lawmakers did what they often do: introduced new legislation — however unnecessary — to show that they were responding to their constituents’ concerns.

The rate of new bills being offered sped up dramatically this month as lawmakers kicked off their legislative sessions at the very moment that Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Bills quickly arose in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island.

“There has generally been an uptick at the beginning of odd-numbered years, when most states begin their biennial legislative sessions. But this year beats prior recent years,” Page said in an email. Since January 1, she noted that 11 state legislatures have introduced 17 bills, including those filed before the Capitol insurrection. “Compare that to 0 during the same period in 2020, 9 in 2019, 5 in 2018, and 13 in 2017,” she said, adding that the 2017 spike was mostly due to North Dakota responding to that winter’s Standing Rock protests.

Because of state legislatures’ part-time schedules, most legislative sessions were over by late last summer, leaving insufficient time to pass bills that responded to the uprisings against police brutality. “We expected to see some bills this month, as state legislatures reconvened, but the number of bills and their severity is still shocking,” she said.

In Florida, lawmakers have latched on to the insurrection at the Capitol to justify a bill they’d been working on for months. “Lawmakers may be trying to take advantage of the moment and the visuals of the violent and destructive Capitol scene, to make their case — to the public and to fellow lawmakers — that these draconian new measures are necessary,” said Page.