ST. LOUIS - A week after protesters shut down Interstate 64 in St. Louis, one lawmaker is calling for harsher punishment for anyone intentionally blocking traffic without a permit.
Republican State Representative Nick Schroer — who represents Congressional District 107 — is working on a bill that will be filed in December for the 2018 Regular Session. Schroer said the bill is still a work in progress. What he means by increasing the penalty could mean a few different things.
"While there is a First Amendment right for peaceful protest and peacefully assembling, it does not protect a protester from blocking traffic because the First Amendment is not an absolute right,” Schroer from St. Charles said. He said he respects the First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, but, that recent demonstrations along St. Louis interstates and busy roadways are concerning.
“It’s not only unsafe to the passengers in these cars, it's unsafe to the protesters. So, that’s one of the reasons why it’s been illegal to do this,” he said.
Schroer said while he is considering moving the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony, he’s also looking into mandatory community service and enhancements to declared disaster zones.
"My question would be why are we spending more time enhancing penalties for something when we can actually get to the root cause of why we're out there in the first place,” said St. Louis Representative Bruce Franks Jr., a Democrat.
Franks said harsher penalties should not be the focus.
“We're trying to get people out of the system and we're trying to create better ways for them to transition back into society,” Franks said.
“And the more we increase laws and increase penalties, we actually aid to mass incarceration."
Franks said another concern if the penalty becomes a felony, is how challenging it is for someone to overcome that mark on his or her record.
Schroer said between now and December he’s doing a lot of research.
“I'm looking at statistics to see, is there something out there proven to work and could it work here in the Midwest,” he said.
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