State Proposals to Restrict Protests

American Oversight is investigating state-level efforts aimed at curtailing protests, including bills that contain harsher punishments for crimes committed during demonstrations or provide criminal liability shields to drivers who hit protesters.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality that swept the nation in recent years, multiple state legislatures have considered — or have already enacted — efforts aimed at curtailing protest rights.

This push has only ramped up since 2020, and some conservative leaders have even used the violence carried out by Trump supporters and far-right extremists — including the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — to justify legislation that would crack down on civil disobedience.

Proponents of these laws often conflate peaceful demonstrations with violent riots that only rarely emerge after protests. Proposals have included increasing penalties on common protest tactics, such as the toppling of monuments to the Confederacy, and essentially criminalizing demonstrations that bother bystanders.

Many also provide legal protections for police — or even private citizens — who respond to protests with violence, such as civil and criminal liability shields for those who hit protesters with their cars.

Vehicular attacks on protesters are an increasingly common tactic for those seeking to disrupt anti-racist protests. In some cases, these attacks have been deadly. Heather Heyer was murdered in 2017 while protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and Summer Taylor was run over on a closed Seattle highway in the summer of 2020.

American Oversight is investigating several of these anti-protest efforts, including a Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 19, 2021. The law carries harsher penalties for crimes carried out in relation to protests. It also bans demonstrators from blocking roadways, while shielding drivers from criminal liability if they hit protesters. Another driver liability shield was signed into law in Oklahoma on April 21.

We’re also investigating legislation in Missouri, Iowa, and other states. The Missouri bill, which has passed both chambers of the state legislature, would similarly protect drivers who hit demonstrators. We’ve requested communications about the proposal from its legislative sponsors, Missouri state Sen. Rick Brattin and Rep. Adam Schnelting.

In Iowa, we’re requesting communications from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office about a law enforcement package she backs that includes anti-protest provisions and a liability shield for drivers who hit demonstrators. The legislation has also passed both chambers of the Iowa legislature.

Related Documents

May 19, 2021

Records Request to the Iowa Governor’s Office for Communications Related to Anti-Protest Bills

Iowa Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
May 10, 2021

Request to Oklahoma Governor for Communications Related to Anti-Protest Bills and Communications with Bills’ Sponsors

Oklahoma Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
May 10, 2021

FOIA to Space Force Seeking Records Regarding Incidents of White Supremacist or Pro-Nazi Activity Among Military Personnel

Department of Defense, DOD - United States Space Force
FOIA Request
May 3, 2021

Records Request to Iowa Governor’s Office for Communications Related to Anti-Protest Bills

Iowa Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
March 3, 2021

Missouri Sen. Brattin Communications Concerning Bill Protecting Drivers who Hit Protestors from Liability

Missouri Senate
Agency Record
February 23, 2021

Records Request to Missouri Rep. Schnelting for Communications Concerning Bill Protecting Drivers Who Hit Protesters from Liability

Missouri House of Representatives
FOIA Request
February 23, 2021

Records Request to Missouri Sen. Brattin for Communications Concerning Bill Protecting Drivers Who Hit Protesters from Liability

Missouri Senate
FOIA Request
February 8, 2021

Records Request to Florida House of Representatives Regarding Bill to Shield Drivers from Liability If They Hit Protesters

Florida House of Representatives
FOIA Request
February 8, 2021

Records Request to Florida Senate Regarding Bill to Shield Drivers from Liability If They Hit Protesters

Florida Senate
FOIA Request
February 8, 2021

Records Request to Florida Governor’s Office Regarding Bill to Shield Drivers from Liability If They Hit Protesters

Florida Office of the Governor
FOIA Request