Charlottesville violence refueling debate over protest bills

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A deadly crash in the Charlottesville violence that claimed the life of a a protester has reignited the debate over drivers who hit protesters being protected.

Several bills, including one proposed by Florida lawmakers, are facing new scrutiny.

An increase in the number of demonstrations throughout Florida led Senator George Gainer, of Panama City, to file a bill in February that would ensure drivers are not held liable for hitting and injuring, or killing, protesters who are in the street. An identical bill was filed in the House by Republican Jayer Williamson.

"I wanted to make it very clear that you couldn't just be anywhere you want to, and do anything you want to, and call that a protest," said Senator Gainer over the phone on Monday.

The bill also placed the burden of proof on the protester hit, or a representative in the case of death, to prove the driver acted intentionally. It did not become law.

"We dropped it last year, because so many people didn't understand the meaning of the bill," said Gainer.
After Saturday's violence, Gainer has faced new criticism for the old bill on social media.

Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old protester, was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, and several others were injured, when a driver deliberately rammed his car into a crowd.

One Twitter user commented under a bible verse Gainer tweeted, accusing him of wanting to "legalize murdering protesters with vehicles."

Gainer is condemning the violence shown towards protesters. He said he would never stand behind such actions.

"Never in any wildest imagination did I see anybody using that bill to hurt other people, and to even compare it to what happened in Virginia would be just asinine," said Gainer.

He took to Twitter again on Monday, writing in a series of five tweets:

"The bill I filed during the last legislative session would have made it a crime for protestors to block traffic. Comparing that legislation with the reprehensible actions of the evil person in Virginia is quite frankly lazy reporting. By simply reading the two-page bill, it's clear that my intent was to protect motorists who unintentionally cause injury or death to a protestor blocking the flow of traffic. A person who intentionally uses their vehicle to injure or kill another should be prosecuted under the full extent of the law."

Gainer said he still believes Florida, and other states, have to create rules for how people can protest safely, but he is not sure if he will be the one to tackle the issue next session.

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