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Tennessee bill would make illegally blocking roadway a felony

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(The Center Square) – A Tennessee bill would increase the penalty for blocking a road to a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Sen. Brent Taylor, R-Memphis, said the bill is intended to stop vehicles from blocking traffic and creating dangerous situations. The bill also would include protests that block a street.

“We have a lot of problems with drivers blocking the interstates and intersections to do what they call drifting, which is spinning donuts and they’re stopping traffic in four-way intersections,” Taylor said during Senate committee. “A lot of times they’re hanging out the car window brandishing firearms. It terrorizes motorists who are simply stopped in traffic and they have no idea what’s going on.”

Senate Bill 2570 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-2 and will next head to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The bill’s fiscal note estimates it will cost the state $241,000 annually for added costs of incarceration.

The bill also allows a private right of action for property damage from blocking the roadway.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, pointed out the bill also would impact protests that block a roadway despite that detail not being included in the bill’s explanation. Kyle said the right to protest is a First Amendment right.

“No one’s First Amendment right gives them the authority or the right to break the law,” Taylor responded.

A Class D felony is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. If approved, SB 2570 would take effect July 1.

Other state legislatures have pushed similar bills to add penalties for blocking roads during protests, including Washington.