FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker in Kentucky has filed legislation that would shield drivers from criminal and civil penalties if they unintentionally run over protesters who are blocking the street without a permit.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports state Rep. Wesley Morgan filed the bill on Friday. The bill would make it punishable by up to a year in jail to block traffic on a public road during a protest without a permit. Drivers who unintentionally hit protesters would be immune from criminal or civil penalties.
The bill comes after a counter-protester at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was killed earlier this year when a man drove a car through the crowd. Republican lawmakers in six other states have filed similar bills, arguing they want to protect drivers from costly lawsuits they say are caused by illegal street protests. But most proposals have failed to pass .
“Everything that happened in Charlottesville is what I’m trying to prevent,” Morgan told The Associated Press in an interview. “Some idiot drives a car intentionally and kills a protester, … this bill would do nothing whatsoever about that. I’m 100 percent (in agreement) that person needs to be prosecuted.”
Morgan said he filed the bill because his constituents were afraid the nearby city of Lexington would attract protests like those in Charlottesville because of the city’s efforts to remove two statutes depicting Confederate generals.
“It’s moving the burden of proof from the driver of the car to the protester,” Morgan said. “The protester has to prove that they got targeted.”
Some of Kentucky’s Democratic lawmakers were swift to condemn the bill.
“This is an absolutely immoral bill, and we all know it,” state Rep. Kelly Flood told the newspaper. “We owe it to our constituents to act like statesmen. What we are really saying with bills like this is that it’s OK for us to be at war with one another, to use violence against each other.”
The bill would make it illegal for protesters to wear masks and make it a crime for local elected officials to order police officers not to “exercise official duties during a public protest.”
The Kentucky legislature is scheduled to convene on Jan. 2.