MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota House approved tougher criminal penalties Tuesday for protesters who block highways and rail lines.
This comes after hundreds of protesters shut down freeways in the Twin Cities following the controversial police shootings of two black men in 2015 and 2016.READ MORE: Minnesota Weather: Saturday Is A #Top10WxDay, Rain Likely For Father's Day
Demonstrators also shut down light rail lines and the entrance to MSP Airport.
Rep. Nick Zerwas, (R) Elk River, decided the misdemeanor penalty for protesting on an interstate is too lenient.
“That is not a First Amendment protected form of free speech,” Zerwas said. “And if you park your Buick across the middle lane of I-94, you deserve to go to jail!”
The bill raises the penalty for blocking a freeway from a misdemeanor to a more-serious gross misdemeanor.READ MORE: Motorcyclist Dies After Collision With Tractor In Shafer
It is the same penalty as crimes of domestic assault, criminal sexual conduct and malicious punishment of a child.
Critics said the protest penalty far outweighs the crime, denouncing the bill for not addressing the racial injustice that caused the demonstrations.
“Plenty of folks said Rosa Parks could have gotten justice without sitting in the front of the bus. Why did she have to be such a nuisance?” said Rep. John Lesch, (DFL) St. Paul.
If this bill passes, protesters who block freeways could get a year in jail.MORE NEWS: Pedestrian Struck, Killed In Brooklyn Park Crash
Gov. Mark Dayton has said he is open to the tougher laws, but criticized Republicans on Tuesday for spending so much time on this issue, and not enough time on school aid and health care.