Missouri lawmakers get jump on session with bills on highway protests, traffic
December 13, 2017
Multiple Missouri lawmakers have filed legislation for the upcoming regular session to revisit issues that cover road safety.
The 2017 legislative session in Missouri included efforts to deter highway protests and to teach aspiring motorists how to handle traffic stops. Both efforts failed to gain traction and died in committee in their originating chamber.
In the wake of fall protests that spilled onto St. Louis area highways, Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, is hopeful the New Year will see legislators willing to advance legislation intended to deter blocking vehicles.
State law now authorizes misdemeanor charges for blocking roadways.
Schroer says his bill – HB1259 – would increase criminal penalties in an effort to deter individuals from impeding traffic on roadways, highways or interstates without a permit. Specifically, blocking an interstate would become a felony.
“While the United States Supreme Court has indicated that the First Amendment grants citizens the right to peaceably assemble, said right is not absolute,” Schroer wrote in a news release. “Courts throughout this nation have held that the First Amendment does not allow for intentional disruption in the flow of traffic as such presents a clear and present danger to the general public.”
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.
Schroer said his goal with the legislation is to preserve the First Amendment rights of peaceful protests or assembling while protecting the safety and well-being of the motoring public.
“Since 2014, we have witnessed the stoppage of interstate and intrastate commerce at the hands of protesters bringing traffic to a halt. … Our courts have clearly stated that the First Amendment does not give you a free pass to impede traffic or endanger the general public.”
A separate topic covers how to properly interact with police during a traffic stop.
The intent of the legislation is to educate new motorists how to calmly approach a situation and to not panic, and also to help them avoid doing anything that may seem like a red flag to law enforcement.
Rep. Gretchen Bangert, D-Florissant, and Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, have filed bills to address the issue.
HB1244 would require driver’s education programs to incorporate information about traffic stops into the curriculum. Driving examiners would also be responsible for providing information during the skills portion of the exam.
The Senate version, SB662, would require all driver training programs to include instruction on how to respond during traffic stops.
The bills can be considered during the legislative session that begins Jan. 3.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri, click here.