JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Protestors who block a public street or highway could soon face charges in Missouri.
Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Eigel from Weldon Spring, passed the Senate three weeks ago and now it’s the House’s turn.
A coalition of several civic and human rights organizations, religious leaders, and elected officials rallied inside the Capitol before the bill was heard Monday before the House Crime Prevention Committee.
“What we see is the people in this building think it is their voice that counts,” NAACP State President Nimrod Chapel said at the rally. “It makes no sense that we come here to this building today asking that not preserve life and liberty, that’s not what these bills are about. These bills are about silencing people who have something to say and not for the sake of just being heard because we are trying to live.”
Senate Bill 26 list a number of provisions, like charging protestors for blocking roadways.
“It’s only until protestors went to St. Charles and disturbed the comfort level of the people of St. Charles that someone from St. Charles decided that this was the appropriate thing to do,” Rev. Darryl Gray, event organizer, said to the committee.
Eigel’s legislation would create an offense for protesters who block traffic on public streets, highways, or interstates. The first offense would be an infraction, a second violation would be a class B misdemeanor, and any other violations would be a class E felony.
“The danger is created by the chaos that ensues when someone unlawfully enters a highway or public street, putting themselves in the direct line of path of vehicles using those roadways,” Eigel said. “It’s a question about whether your right to do something unlawful extends to putting your fellow man and woman in danger.”
Only a handful of House members and the St. Louis Police Officers Association spoke in favor of the legislation.
“You block a roadway, it does put people in harm’s way,” Rep. Ron Copeland (R-Salem) said.
“I think there is a place for maybe establishing some type of rules as far as getting on highways,” Jay Schroeder, president of the association, said. “I believe maybe there has to be some standard that lets you get up on a highway.”
During the 90-minute hearing, most spoke in opposition.
“Penalizing people for trying to do and exercise what they feel like is just and what they feel is right,” Rep. Nasheed Aldridge (D-St. Louis) said.
“When your voice isn’t heard, maybe on the sidewalks or in front of city hall, then sometimes it’s what you have to do,” Rep. Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City) said.
Rep. Richard West (R-Wentzville) questioned Gray about protesting on Interstate 70 last summer. Gray said it’s because of how George Floyd died.
“Did that happen in St. Charles?” West asked.
“No, but it is prevailing throughout this country,” Gray responded.
“Then why is it important to make the people of St. Charles County uncomfortable?” West said.
“Discrimination is in St. Charles County, people discriminate in St. Charles County,” Gray said. “Racism is alive and well in St. Charles County.”
The bill also adds a “bill of rights for law enforcement officers by protecting officers who are under investigation by notifying him or her of the alleged violation and who would be conducting the investigation. Also, the questioning of the officer would only happen while on duty.”
“Even with the law enforcement bill of rights, I can be cool with the bill, but when I see this, I do see a direct attack on people that have been exercising their First Amendment rights and to be very clear, people of color,” Aldridge said.
The legislation would also take away parole from any offenders who commit a violent crime against a law enforcement officer and penalizes another that would vandalize public monuments.
The next step for this piece of legislation is for it to be voted out of committee.