By Sarah Cronin
So many anti-protest bills have been passed since Trump’s election that the ACLU has launched its own interactive map just to track the legislation. At the writing of this article, at least 25 bills have been introduced across 18 different states.
Unsurprisingly, the North Dakota State legislature has the most anti-protest bills of all the states, with six introduced since November. What is striking about the statewide legislation, however, is not the quantity of the bills, but the similarities between them.
When Anti-Media first began monitoring the trend in November, Washington state Senator Doug Ericksen had announced plans to introduce a bill that would criminalize demonstrators as “‘Economic Terrorists.” In March, North Carolina also passed a bill creating a criminal classification for “economic terrorism.”
By January, five other ‘anti-protest’ bills had emerged in states across the country, including a particularly contentious bill introduced in North Dakota that would exempt motorists from charges if they “accidentally” hit a demonstrator on the freeway. A nearly identical bill was introduced in the Florida legislature on the same day. Later, a version was also introduced in Tennessee.
Other sets of near-identical legislation include Missouri and North Dakota bills that would prohibit the use of masks during protest and bills introduced in Oklahoma and North Dakota that would increase penalties for trespassing on “critical infrastructure facilities” such crude oil pipelines.
This is not to mention the entire crop of ‘anti-obstruction’ bills introduced in seven different states that would increase penalties for protesters who obstruct traffic.
While there are some bills that are unique, like an Oregon bill that would require community college or public universities to expel any student convicted of rioting, the majority of the bills share such strikingly similar themes and language that it would appear as though these state legislators are working from the same legal template.
This begs the question, who is making the template?
As Traci Yoder of the National Lawyers Guild explains, it has become such common practice for special interests groups to draft model legislation at both the state and federal level that it can be difficult to say with certainty who or what is behind the current wave of anti-protest legislation.
The “obvious suspect,” Yoder says, would be the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the influential lobbying group comprised of corporate representatives and state legislators who vote as equals on model legislation, which they then hand off to lawmakers.
ALEC gained mass media attention when it was discovered to be the driving force behind the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law that was used to justify the murder of Trayvon Martin, but it was working behind the scenes long before that. It drafts a self-proclaimed 1,000 bills per year, 20% of which become laws.
Of the 26 bills Anti-Media examined, ten were authored or sponsored by at least one known ALEC-affiliated politician, often times more.
If ALEC is behind the recent wave of recent anti-protest bills, it wouldn’t be the first time the ‘non-profit’ organization has sponsored such legislation. In 2003, ALEC-crafted legislation for states that would have criminalized animal rights activists protesters as “eco-terrorists” — in conjunction with their push for the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which they had also drafted. AETA was passed in 2006.
“While there is no indication that anti-protest legislation is on ALEC’s current agenda, it is worth noting that the kinds of protests being targeted are all in conflict with ALEC’s anti- worker and anti-environmental platform,” Yoder wrote, referencing ALEC’s 2016 agenda.
In ALEC’s 2016 annual report, published earlier this month, ALEC also expressed a reinvigorated interest in guiding state legislative decisions.
“Now more than ever, your focus should be on the states. Right now, we are at a crossroads in American history where an incredible number of important decisions about our future are going to be made—and they are going to be made by the states,” ALEC Chief Executive Officer Lisa B. Nelson writes.
Other likely suspects, Yoder writes, are police unions such as the Police Executive Research Forum.
Given the pro-policing approach of the Trump administration, it would be unsurprising if law enforcement organizations prioritized criminalizing protest activity.
Of the 25 bills introduced since November, seven have been defeated or postponed indefinitely. But this is far from over. In fact, if history is any indicator, the next iteration of anti-protest laws will come — only they will be more subversive.
As we saw from the AETA/ALEC example, we should expect to see parts of these bills introduced elsewhere should they fail in their current form.
Here is a rundown of the latest anti-protest legislation around the country:
- Total Bills: 26
- Total States: 18
- Bills passed: 7
- Bills failed: 8
- Bills pending: 11
- Bills sponsored by at least one known ALEC associate: 15
|State||Bill #||Description||Status||Known ALEC sponsor(s)|
|Arizona||SB 1142||SB 1142 Adds “rioting” to crime statute; enables police to seize assets of protesters||FAILED (passed Senate, House Speaker said will not move forward)||Sen. Steve M. Smith (R-23), Public Safety and Elections Task Force|
|Colorado||SB 17-035||SB 17-035 Makes obstructing or tampering with oil and gas equipment punishable with up to 18 months in prison and/or $100,000 in fines||pending||none|
|Florida||SB 1096||SB 1096 Exempt drivers from liability if they hit protester who is obstructing traffic||FAILED (“Postponed indefinitely”)||none|
|Georgia||SB 160||SB 160 Makes blocking any highway, street, sidewalk, or other public passage a ‘high and aggravated misdemeanor.’||PASSED||Sen. Steve Gooch (R-51); Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force|
|Indiana||SB 285||SB 285 Authorizes police to remove protesters “by any means necessary”||Pending, “by any means necessary” clause removed and replaced with fines||none|
|Iowa||SF 111||SF 111 Would criminalize highway protesters with felony charges and five years in prison||pending||none|
|Michigan||HB 4630 and HB 4643||HB 4630 Would fine picketers up to $1,000/day for individuals and up to $10,000/day for unions
HB 4643 Would make it illegal to picket under specific circumstances including obstruction of traffic
|FAILED (Both shelved)||Rep. Amanda Price (R-89), Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force (primary sponsor of -HB 4630 and co-sponsor of HB 4643)|
|Minnesota||HF 322 and HF 55||HF 322 would make protesters foot the bill for governmental costs related to policing unlawful demonstrations
HF 55 Makes obstruction of highways punishable as a “gross misdemeanor”
|Both pending||HF 322: Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-21B), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force Member, Rep. Cindy Pugh (R-33B), Sen. John Howe (R-28), ALEC member, Rep. Matt Dean (R-38B), ALEC International Relations Task Force Member, Rep. Linda Runbeck (R-38A), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Member[1.
HF 55: Rep. Linda Runbeck (R-38A)
|Mississippi||SB 2730||SB 2730 Highway protesters would face fines of up to 10,000 and five years in prison||FAILED (Died in committee)||none|
|Missouri||HB 179||HB 179 Makes it illegal for protesters to wear masks, hoods or other coverings that disguise identity||pending||none|
|North Dakota||HB 1304, HB 1293, HB 1426, SB 2302, SB 1203 and HB 1193||HB 1304 prohibits the use of masks, hoods or face coverings for concealment during “the commission of a criminal offense”
HB 1293 Makes it a crime to trespass “critical infrastructure facility” punishable by fine of $1,000 or 6 months in prison; anyone who vandalizes infrastructure can be charged with a felony punishable by 100,000 dollar fine or 10 years in prison
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HB 1426 creates different classes of penalties for “rioting”
SB 2302 allows the attorney general to appoint ad hoc special agents for specific law enforcement purposes, including protests
SB 1203 Exempt drivers from liability if they hit protester who is obstructing traffic
HB 1193 Would create “economic harm” provision where protesters who case $1,000 in economic harm would face up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine
|HB 1304 PASSEDHB 1293 PASSED
HB 1426 PASSED SB 2302 PASSED SB 1203 FAILED
HB 1193 FAILED
|HB 1304: Rep. Alan Carlson (R-41, House Majority Leader), Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Member  and former ALEC State Chairman, Rep. Craig Headland (R-29), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Member, Rep. Kim Koppelman (R-13), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force Member 
HB 1293: Rep. Craig Headland (R-29), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Member, Rep. Kim Koppelman (R-13), Rep. Mike R. Nathe (R-30), ALEC State Chair, and International Relations Task Force Member
HB 1426: Rep. Kim Koppelman (R-13), Rep. Karen Rohr (R-31)
SB 2302: none
|North Carolina||SB 229 and HB 249||Introduced after protesters spoke out against former Governor Pat McCory, SB 229, expands current law to make a crime to threaten or intimidate a current or former legislative officer in retaliation for their duties.
HB 249 Would charge any person who willfully “impedes or disrupts the regular course of business” with felony crime of ‘Economic Terrorism’
|Oklahoma||HB 1123||Makes it a misdemeanor to trespass or enter “critical infrastructure facility” punishable by fine of $1,000 or 6 months in prison; anyone who vandalizes infrastructure can be charged with a felony punishable by $100,000 fine or 10 years in prison||PASSED||none|
|Oregon||SB 540||Would require community college or public universities to expel any student convicted of riot||pending||Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-25)|
|South Dakota||SB 176||Authorizes the commissioner of school and public lands to prohibit groups of 20+ people from “congregating” on public lands, Makes obstructing highways a Class 2 misdemeanor||PASSED||Rep. Kris Langer (R-25)Ryan Maher and Rep. David Novstrup (R-3), ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force Member |
|Tennessee||SB 944||Would immunize drivers from liability if they hit a protester who is obstructing traffic||pending||Sen. Bill Ketron (R-13), ALEC State Chair, ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force and Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force member, attended 2011 and 2015 ALEC Annual Meetings. Ketron told The Tennessean that 6 other senators and 22 Tennessee legislators attended the 2015 ALEC meeting.|
|Virginia||SB 1055||Raises penalty for remaining at a protest after dispersal order is given||FAILED||none|
|Washington||SB 5009||SB 5009 Creates classification of “economic disruption” (earlier deemed “economic terrorism”) for obstructing passageways of trains and other infrastructure||pending||Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42), ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force Member|