OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma State Senate passed legislation that gives legal protections to drivers escaping riots, but a local group says the bill is dangerous and stands in the way of Oklahomans exercising their right to protest.
House Bill 1674 was written by Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, and Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman. It was approved by the Senate on Wednesday.
The bill was written to give protection against civil and criminal liability to drivers who “may unintentionally cause injury or death while fleeing a riot and imposes penalties for those who unlawfully obstruct streets or highways, blocking vehicles,” a State Senate news release states.
“We actually saw this happen here in Oklahoma last year when a Tulsa family was surrounded by rioters. Through no fault of their own, they were caught in a dangerous situation, and fearing for their lives, they were attempting to get away,” Standridge said. “The prosecutor declined to file charges, but that may not always be the case. This bill will protect innocent people trapped by a rioting mob.”
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.
“This bill adds to language in existing law regarding riots and is directly in line with the Tulsa district attorney’s decision over the summer that protected a motorist fleeing a riot,” West said. “This is an important protection for citizens who are just trying to get out of a bad situation. When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families or their property.”
The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) issued a statement Wednesday condemning the bill’s passage.
“This law is dangerous and meant to discourage Oklahomans from exercising their constitutional right to peaceful protest,” said 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.”
The bill now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt for consideration.
CAIR-OK urged Stitt to veto the bill.