Hobbs Holds Power Over Fate of Highway Protest Bill

Hobbs Holds Power Over Fate of Highway Protest Bill

Debarylife – On June 4, 2020, protestors on Central Avenue take a break. The killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd served as the impetus for protests against police brutality around the country, including the march. Image courtesy of Arizona Mirror/Jeremy Duda

Gov. Katie Hobbs will decide the fate of a bill that would criminalize protestors who obstruct roads with their demonstrations.

The proposal would make it a class 6 crime for a pedestrian to obstruct traffic on any bridge, tunnel, or highway that has more than 25 vehicles or people on it, as well as any route that goes to an airport unless they have authorization from the law to do so and have been warned.

“The person must be told by the police to move before this class 6 felony can be committed, and only if they refuse can it be classified as a felony,” Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills and the bill’s sponsor, stated to the House Judiciary Committee last month.

According to state law, blocking a highway is currently considered a class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to four months in jail and $750 in fines. A class 6 felony is likely to result in a one-year jail sentence.

SEE MORE: DeSantis Scores Legal Victory in Migrant Flights Lawsuit

Senate Bill 1073 was approved by the House of Representatives on March 26 by a vote of 36-19.

Although Kavanagh acknowledged that blocking traffic is already illegal under state law, she felt that the consequences need to be harsher when larger, busier highways are blocked.

“All I’m arguing today is that more harm necessitates a more severe punishment. You just stepped into a crime if you’re going to obstruct a lot of people even after being informed you need to move, the man stated. “After hearing that, I believe many of them will get up, allowing us to resume traffic.”

Hobbs Holds Power Over Fate of Highway Protest Bill (1)

Kavanaugh is amending state law on traffic blocking for the third time with this bill. It was also changed in 2016 following the cancellation of a rally called by former President Donald Trump because demonstrators had blocked a route that led to the event site.

American Civil Liberties Union’s Hugo Polanco informed senators in committee that SB 1073’s “overly broad” language would essentially stifle protected First Amendment expression.

“SB1073, the officers’ initial verbal warning to desist does not have to be lawful. Arizona law already prohibits the activity the sponsor claims he wants to outlaw,” he stated. The law grants police broad authority to ban people from public spaces even in the absence of sufficient justification.

Legislators were also informed by Maricopa County public defender Katie Gipson McLean that SB1073 would be nearly hard to implement in court due to its lack of practicality.

I would adore a field day and a trial in which the officers and prosecutors are made to appear foolish for attempting to prove that there were more than 25 individuals in attendance. Nothing is being recorded about that,” she remarked. I’m fairly certain that the prosecutors aren’t even interested in following us down this rabbit hole. Because of the way this is structured, it will be extremely difficult for you to establish each element beyond a reasonable doubt.

SEE MORE: Border School Districts in California Urge Sewage State of Emergency for Student Health

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, a Republican from Scottsdale, rejected criticism that the bill is ambiguously worded and stated that he thinks it correctly addresses circumstances that are comparable to current events.

That’s about as narrow as you can draw the line: “intentionally interferes with passage on any roadway.” He stated, “In reality, what groups like the ACLU would like to do is…have the authority to censor conservative political expression. “In my opinion, this is a very unique criminal justice bill that is geared toward upholding the First Amendment.”

Democrats did not think the plan was as well welcomed. Even though the bill was approved by the committee as a whole, Democrats on the panel appeared hesitant to grant law enforcement additional authority to criminally prosecute Arizonans who attempted to express their First Amendment rights.

The Democratic representative from Tempe, Rep. Melody Hernandez, stated that she has received reports from several demonstrators claiming they were unlawfully harmed by the police.

“Not because of the bill itself, but rather because I don’t trust our police department to properly enforce the laws that we pass,” the speaker expressed her many reservations about the bill.

The consequences of the measure, according to Representative Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix, should “terrify” people of all political stripes. She expressed her desire that the bill be vetoed.

SEE MORE: Oregon Governor Approves Bill to Recriminalize Drug Possession

“To be honest, I’m sick and tired of politicians and right-wingers who get upset when we boycott, get upset when we kneel or use our First Amendment rights to speak out against injustices,” the woman stated. “So, yeah, maybe there have been some extreme actions, but that’s what happens when you don’t get your voice heard by the government.”

As someone who has witnessed police-broken protests firsthand, Ortiz claimed that the mandatory warning required by SB1073 is less effective than one might think because police frequently do not care to give people enough time to react to the warning before acting further.

“I have witnessed them say, ‘We are going to release tear gas, so you better leave this area,’ and then, without providing any opportunity for people to flee, including women, children, and individuals with disabilities, they release the gas seconds later,” the woman claimed. “Our police operate in that manner.”

According to her, this bill will provide law enforcement further authority to target citizens for airing their divergent opinions on the government and current affairs.

In October 2020, a group of eighteen individuals who were protesting police violence were taken into custody and accused of belonging to a street gang known as “ACAB.” Since it was discovered that Phoenix Police lacked sufficient reliable evidence to support their allegations, the charges have been dismissed.

Ortiz claimed, “They took our laws and they used them to falsely charge over a dozen political protestors as members of gangs.” “The Republican county attorney eventually dropped those charges after realizing what a heinous civil rights violation it was—and it wasn’t that they were unaware of it; rather, it was the public’s discovery that brought it to light.”

With the support of primarily Republicans, SB 1073 was approved by the House and the Senate and is awaiting Hobbs’ next move.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *