Proposed TN law protects drivers who injure protesters


JOHNSON CITY, TN - As political protests continue to break out across the country, a new law in Tennessee seeks to protect drivers involved in an injury of a protester. The way it's written HB 668 would protect drivers from civil liability if a protester is hit in the public right-of-way. That's if the driver is using due care.

The bill would not provide criminal protection.

Some see the law as an attack on the right to protest. Johnson City activist John Baker recently was part of a protest of President Trump's executive order banning refugees and some immigrants from entering the U.S. Baker thinks the legislation is an effort to stifle protesters.

"This is just an additional way of putting a regulation out there that gives certain people pardon from having responsibility as an adult," Baker said.

The author of the bill is state representative Matthew Hill of Jonesborough. He said the bill was written in response to protesters around the country putting themselves and others in danger.

"This is meant to hopefully help people in the car and out of the car be safe, stay safe," Hill said. "If you want to protest, that's fine, whatever the issue is, but do it safely, do it peaceably, and do it out of our roads."

Hill said the intention is to prevent protesters from standing where they shouldn't.

"This is an attempt at really trying to have some public safety and inject some common sense," Hill said.

Personal injury lawyer Tony Seaton said it would be a narrow set of circumstances where anyone would be protected.

"If you accidentally but negligently run over somebody, you're going to be responsible," Seaton said. "If you intentionally run over somebody, you're not only going to be responsible, you're going to probably be charged criminally."

Seaton also suspects an ulterior motive.

"It just sounds like a law that's trying to intimidate folks from protesting," he said.

But Hill insists he does not challenge the right to protest.

"They can still protest, they can still air their grievances, we're totally in favor of that," Hill said, "but they need to do it as the Constitution calls for it: in a peaceful manner, and not by blocking public roadways."

The bill will go to the floor for debate in the next few weeks.