OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A bill that could give drivers immunity if they feel threatened and run over a protester during a demonstration was signed into law Wednesday by Governor Kevin Stitt.
House Bill 1674 was written by Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, and Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman.
“You can protest all you want, I encourage that, but once you start throwing things at people’s cars, and trying to break their windows and pull them out of the car, it’s no longer a protest, that’s what you call a riot,” Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman) said.
The bill protects a driver who “unintentionally causes injury or death” while fleeing a riot.
The bill also penalizes individuals who “unlawfully obstruct” approaching vehicles from using a public street, highway or road or endangering vehicles’ or pedestrians’ safe movement.
Penalties include a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or a fine ranging from $100 to $5,000, as well as liability for damage to person or property.
Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore) says each case will be reviewed thoroughly.
“It will be looked at by a district attorney, and most likely would be going through the court system,” he said. “Nowadays there’s a lot of video evidence.”
Critics say the bill could have a chilling effect on free speech.
“They’re risking their lives. People will feel empowered to drive through protestors and that’s certainly scary,” Nicole McAfee, director of policy and advocacy for ACLU Oklahoma, said. “The legislature will pull out every stop and trample on our rights and liberties to ensure that white Oklahomans in their vehicle, if they are inconvenienced by a protest, which is supposed to be an inconvenience, can drive through protestors rather than for a moment feel fearful.”
The ACLU is also not ruling out legal action.
“This law is dangerous and meant to discourage Oklahomans from exercising their constitutional right to peaceful protest,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) Government Affairs Director Lani R. Habrock. “This bill is one of many across the country seeking to suppress the voice of the people.”