Bill making it a felony to block traffic during a protest has first hearing in GA Senate committee

ATLANTA — A bill that would make it a felony to block traffic during a protest got its first hearing before a Georgia Senate committee Tuesday.

State Sen. Randy Robertson, a Columbus Republican and former deputy sheriff, said he crafted the bill after watching the violent protests in Atlanta and in Washington D.C. He said he fully supports peaceful protests and the right to assemble, but those freedoms have limits.

“I think the Supreme Court of the United States has held that the First Amendment strongly protects the right to conduct peaceful public assembly,” Robertson said. “But that right to assembly is not absolute.”

HB 171 would make it a felony to participate in a protest that turned violent. Participants could also be charged with racketeering. It makes it a felony to block highways and sidewalks during a protest if police order protesters to clear away. It allows people to sue cities for injuries or damages suffered in a protest if the local government ordered law enforcement not to engage protesters. It also gives the state the ability to withhold funding if a city or county chooses to cut its law enforcement budget by a certain percentage.

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Larry Ramsey of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia told state senators in the hearing that Georgia counties don’t support that.

“But the bigger issue from a county perspective is, who gets to make the decisions on what’s the adequate way to spend county dollars?” Ramsey said.

ACLU Political Director Chris Bruce told lawmakers that every citizen has a right to protest.

“We need to make it perfectly clear that as a U.S. citizen, you have every right to petition your government, and you have the freedom of assembly,” Bruce said. “No bill should ever infringe upon that right.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee ran late on Tuesday, so senators did not vote on moving HB 171 forward. That vote could come later this week.


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