North Carolina, other states introduce bills to protect drivers who run over protesters
The death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, has renewed focus on bills that surfaced this year in a half-dozen state legislatures that proposed limited protections for drivers who cause injury or death to protesters.
None of the legislation has passed so far.
Lawmakers in North Dakota, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas proposed bills that would make it legal for drivers to hit protesters if the driver did not do so willfully, according to Mick Bullock, a spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A similar bill also was introduced in Rhode Island, according to the state General Assembly’s website.
The language in these bills is remarkably similar from state to state, and in some cases, nearly identical. Here are the states where such bills were proposed, and the status of the legislation in their respective legislatures:
Senate Bill 1096 was introduced in the Florida Senate in February.
Similar to bills in the other states, SB 1096 said the driver must be “exercising due care,” and the person in the roadway must be there to protest and be purposefully blocking the vehicles.
SB 1096 also had the caveat that drivers were not immune from liability if they willfully caused injury.
SB 1096 added that a person “may not obstruct or interfere” with the flow of traffic during a protest unless a public assembly permit had been issued for the demonstration.
If the injured protester chose to bring a lawsuit, the bill would have put the burden of proof on the injured person, not the driver, to prove that the driver’s actions were intended to cause injury or death.
A similar bill — House Bill 1419 — was introduced in the Florida House in March.
STATUS: SB 1096 died after it failed to pass the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, and HB 1419 died in the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee.
North Carolina’s HB 330 excuses drivers from liability if they injure a protester who is blocking traffic.
A subsection of the bill notes that the driver could be held responsible for injuries if they were caused willfully.
The driver’s immunity also hinges on whether the injured person was part of a protest in which a permit had been issued.
STATUS: In April, HB 330 passed the House in a 67-48 vote and was referred to the Senate’s Committee on Rules and Operations, before consideration in the state Senate.
North Dakota’s HB 1203 was introduced in February in response to Dakota Access Pipeline protesters who stalled construction by blocking the roads.
In the bill, a driver who caused injury or death to someone blocking a roadway while “exercising reasonable care” would not be able to be held liable for damages.
“It turned from a protest to basically terrorism on the roadways, and the bill got introduced for people to be able to drive down the roads without fear of running into somebody and having to be liable for them,” state Rep. Keith Kempenich, who introduced the bill, said at the time.
STATUS: The bill failed to pass the House in 50-41 vote in February.
Rhode Island’s HB 5690 protected drivers who are “exercising due care” and who injure a protester blocking the road.
As in several of the other bills, drivers aren’t immune from liability if they purposefully injure a protester.
STATUS: HB 5690 was introduced in March, but the House Judiciary Committee recommended the bill be held to undergo further study.
Tennessee’s SB 944 and HB 668 would protect drivers from being held liable if they injure a protester who is blocking traffic in a public roadway.
Like several other states, Tennessee’s bills said a driver would not be immune from liability if they injured a protester on purpose.
STATUS: HB 668 failed to pass the Civil Justice Committee. SB 944 is awaiting the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
HB 250 showed up last month during the Texas Legislature’s special session.
Under this bill, drivers couldn’t be held liable if they were “exercising due care” at the time they injured a person in the roadway if that person was participating in a protest.
The bill didn’t excuse drivers from liability if they were being negligent. But unlike the legislation in other states, the Texas bill didn’t explicitly excuse drivers if they caused “willful or wanton” injury.
STATUS: The bill was referred to the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee in July but didn’t progress further during the special session, which ended Tuesday.