A bill to stiffen penalties for protesters who block Iowa roadways advanced in the Iowa Senate Tuesday, a reaction to an incident along Interstate 80 in Iowa City last November.
Roughly 100 protesters shut down the eastbound lanes for about half an hour, objecting to the election of Donald Trump.
The bill would increase penalties for blocking a roadway where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour or higher.
Free speech advocates objected to the bill.
“We think the penalties are way too harsh for this,” said ACLU of Iowa Policy Counsel Daniel Zeno. “These are people who are exercising their right to protest.”
Under the bill, a first offense would be a serious misdemeanor with as much as a year in prison. A third offense would be a Class D felony with up to five years in prison.
Representatives of the Iowa Bar Association and the Iowa DOT also objected to the penalties in the bill. .
A representative of the Iowa DOT argued for more lenient penalties given that some offenders are likely to be juveniles.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jake Chapman (R-Adel) says it’s a matter of public safety.
“It’s a matter of time before people are significantly hurt,” Chapman said. “We want to make sure the penalty fits the crime.”
Sen. Tony Bisignano of Des Moines, the lone Democrat on the three-member panel, voted against the bill.
“I can’t support what I believe is an overkill and a political reaction,” Bisignano said.