TALLAHASSEE (FOX 13) - A Florida lawmaker has proposed a bill that would put new regulations and penalties on the way people protest.
On Tuesday, Republican Senator George Gainer of Panama City filed a bill that would make it illegal for protests to interfere with traffic. Violators could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.
"Nobody has a right to endanger their lives or somebody else, or create a disruption, so that we have traffic problems and are putting a lot of folks in hardship trying to go somewhere and do their business," said Senator Gainer.
His bill, which he hopes will take effect on July 1, 2017, would also require protesters to obtain a special event or public assembly permit, issued by the city, prior to the demonstration.
According to Tampa police, law enforcement typically finds out about planned protests on social media.
"It's sometimes hard to anticipate how many people there might be, and it's very difficult to anticipate exactly where they're going to go," said Steve Hegarty, spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department.
Hegarty said traffic-related issues have not been a problem during Tampa protests, because police bring in ample officers, sometimes working overtime, to monitor the crowd and ensure that the demonstration does not block or lead onto any highways.
"It's much more difficult to keep somebody safe if they're going to be on a major road. We also don't want them to shut down a major road," explained Hegarty.
Last November, following the election of President Donald Trump, thousands of protesters in Miami blocked the MacArthur Causeway, snarling traffic for hours.
Senator Gainer's bill would protect drivers who unintentionally hit protesters marching through traffic. If the protester is injured or killed, the driver would not be at fault. the burden of proving that the accident was not unintentional would fall on the injured protester.
"If somebody was driving down the road and somebody just threw themselves in front of a car or rolled up on the hood, acting like their injured or getting injured, it's really no fault of the driver. That's just reckless behavior," said Gainer.
No action has been taken in the Senate just yet related to the bill.
At least 10 other states have filed some version of a protest bill in recent months. This week Arizona's legislature advanced a bill that would allow law enforcement to seize someone's assets if they organize, or participate in, a protest that turns violent. Supporters said the law would stop "professional protesters" who plan demonstrations with the intent of causing chaos.