Minnesota governor vetoes stiffer punishment for highway protesters

June 6, 2018

Keith Goble


An attempt to enact changes in statute to deter people from blocking highways in Minnesota will need to wait.

To date, states including South Dakota and Tennessee have enacted specific rules to deter highway protests through stiff fines and punishments. Governors in Arkansas and Minnesota a year ago vetoed similar efforts.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton recently had a revised effort to address the issue land back on his desk. Despite efforts by advocates to make necessary changes to secure the governor’s support, Dayton once again vetoed the legislation.

The state House previously voted 71-55 and the Senate voted 40-27 to advance a bill that covers protesters who obstruct traffic access to a highway, airport or public transit.

State law now permits such actions to carry up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

HF390 would raise the penalty for obstructing access to one year in jail and/or $3,000 fines.

“Current law gives law enforcement the authority and tools needed to protect public safety,” Dayton said in a statement.

Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, view efforts to punish protesters as violations of the First Amendment. They add that a higher fine will not deter protesters. Instead, they say the legislation only threatens free speech.

Supporters said it is already illegal to block a roadway. HF390 attempted to increase the punishment for lawbreakers.

“It’s extremely disappointing to see the governor flip-flop on this issue; from stating that shutting down highways put ‘public safety at serious risk’ to vetoing a bill that received bipartisan support in the Legislature,” Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, said in written remarks following the veto.

North Carolina
The issue could come up for consideration soon in the Tar Heel State.

A bill halfway through the North Carolina General Assembly would protect drivers who unintentionally strike pedestrians in certain situations.

Specifically, the proposed law would shield drivers from lawsuits if they “exercise due care” in instances where protesters blocking the road are hit.

HB330 would not protect drivers from liability if they are “willful and wanton” when striking protesters or demonstrators while blocking a roadway. Immunity would also be off the table for hitting someone who has a valid permit allowing a protest in a public street.

The bill is in the Senate Rules and Operations Committee. House lawmakers approved the bill last spring.