Friday, April 05, 2024

Tennessee bill would make illegally blocking roadway a felony

By Jon Styf, The Center Square, April 5, 2024-  A Tennessee bill would increase the penalty for blocking a road to a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Sen. Brent Taylor, R-Memphis, said the bill is intended to stop vehicles from blocking traffic and creating dangerous situations. The bill also would include protests that block a street.

“We have a lot of problems with drivers blocking the interstates and intersections to do what they call drifting, which is spinning donuts and they’re stopping traffic in four-way intersections,” Taylor said during Senate committee. “A lot of times they’re hanging out the car window brandishing firearms. It terrorizes motorists who are simply stopped in traffic and they have no idea what’s going on.”

Senate Bill 2570 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-2 and will next head to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The bill's fiscal note estimates it will cost the state $241,000 annually for added costs of incarceration.

The bill also allows a private right of action for property damage from blocking the roadway.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, pointed out the bill also would impact protests that block a roadway despite that detail not being included in the bill’s explanation. Kyle said the right to protest is a First Amendment right.

“No one’s First Amendment right gives them the authority or the right to break the law,” Taylor responded.

A Class D felony is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. If approved, SB 2570 would take effect July 1.

Other state legislatures have pushed similar bills to add penalties for blocking roads during protests, including Washington.

Rod's Comment: I fully support this. This could save lives. 

I had never carried a gun until the Black Lives Matters riots. If you recall that time, it was not uncommon for protestors to block roads and people were pulled out of cars and beaten simply because they were White. Durning this time, I avoided downtown and the interloop Interstates and places where protest was more likely to occur. And, I carried. Had I been trapped on an interstate and a mob started breaking my car windows, I would have used it.

There is no constitutional right to block a highway. The lawlessness that happened during the George Floyd riots must never be allowed to happen again. In addition to the blocking of roadways for protest, the blocking of roadways and taking over intersections to do donuts and reckless driving exhibitions and racing should not be tolerated. 

Already, blocking a roadway is a class A misdemeanor punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 11 months, 29 days, a maximum fine of $2,500, or both. This bill increases the penalty from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony if a defendant intentionally obstructs a highway, street and is punishable by a term of imprisonment not less than two years but not more than 12 years, and a jury is authorized to assess a maximum fine of $5,000, unless otherwise provided by statute.

Unfortunately, I am unsure if this law would do much to affect blocking a roadway in Nashville as a result of protest. We have a DA who will not prosecute criminals if he is sympathetic to their cause. However, it may be more difficult for the DA to refuse to prosecute felonies than it is to refuse to prosecute misdemeanors. 

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