Drivers Given Civil Immunity For Hitting Protesters Under Proposed Bill

Posted at 6:23 PM, Feb 09, 2017

A newly proposed bill states drivers would get immunity from civil liability if they hit and injured a protester blocking roads. 

House Bill 0668 was sponsored by Representative Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, and Senator Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro. The bill would apply if the person driving the vehicle was exercising due care and struck the protester blocking traffic in the public right-of-way. 

The bill does not protect the driver if he or she willingly struck the protester, which is already against the law. 

HB0668, which was only filed on Thursday, has concerned some lawmakers and group leaders who fear it would be an excuse for drivers to "mow down" protesters. 

"People have been protesting their government as the highest form of patriotism for over 200 years. It's disturbing that people in this Legislator think that we should give people the right to hurt them without facing any consequences," Senator Jeff Yarbro said. 

"I think it makes me sad, it's like we're going backwards and we have real problems in this state. This is not a good use of my tax money to pay for these people to talk about running over protesters," Sidney Bennett of Progressive Democrats of America told NewsChannel 5. 

Over the last year, dozens and even hundreds of protesters took their message to the streets of Nashville, whether it's rallying against President Donald Trump or gathering for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In Tennessee, it is an offense to obstruct highways and streets to the public. Although many of the rallies in Nashville have continued to block major roads and intersections with law enforcement supervision.

Nashville attorney David Raybin told NewsChannel 5 that there are better ways to approach the issue with the help of law enforcement. 

The bill does not elaborate further on the interpretation of due care but Raybin said it should be left up to the courts.

"The issue of due care is a jury question, you can't determine that at the front end normally. I don't think we want these things decided in the streets, that's what police officers are for," Raybind added.

In response, Representative Hill released a statement:
“We are not endorsing anyone running over a person with a car, whether it is protesters or anyone else. If someone intentionally harms a person, they are going to be charged with a crime, period. There is a clear difference, however, between peacefully protesting and lawless rioters in the middle of a public roadway who jeopardize the safety of our families. This is a public safety bill that is meant to protect everyone’s right to peacefully protest and I look forward to seeing this commonsense legislation passed into law.”
Senator Ketron also released a statement:
“We believe that citizens have the right to protest. There is a procedure for peaceful protests and the purpose of that process is to protect the safety of our citizens. Protesters have no right to be in the middle of the road or our highways for their own safety and the safety of the traveling public.”

The bill said the act shall take effect July 1, 2017, the public welfare requiring it.