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Kentucky Lawmaker’s Bill Would Protect Drivers Who Unintentionally Hit, Run Over Protesters

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Under Rep. C. Wesley Morgan’s bill, impeding traffic on a public road during a protest would be a crime punishable by up to a year in jail. (Image courtesy of the Lexington Herald-Leader)

A Kentucky legislator is looking to offer legal protections to drivers who unintentionally hit and/or kill protesters during unauthorized demonstrations, a move fellow lawmakers are calling “immoral.”

The bill, pre-filed by Republican lawmaker Rep. C. Wesley Morgan on Friday, Oct. 20, would add to the state’s current laws on riots and disorderly conduct, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

One part would make impeding the flow of traffic on a public street during a protest for which no permit has been granted a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Meanwhile, another part of the bill states that drivers “may not be held criminally or civilly liable for causing injury or death to a person” who’s blocking traffic during such an event, unless it’s proven that the driver did so purposefully.

“This is an absolutely immoral bill, and we all know it,” state Rep. Kelly Flood (D-Lexington) told the newspaper on Sunday. “I do not understand why my colleagues choose to move in such a fashion when lives are on the line.”

“We owe it to our constituents to act like statesmen,” she added. “What we’re really saying with bills like this is that it is okay for us to be at war with one another — to use violence against each other.”

Morgan, a longtime liquor dealer who was first elected to the Kentucky House in 2016, has quite the track record. He was criticized during the 2017 legislative session after filing half a dozen bills that would have benefited him as a liquor store owner, according to the Herald -Leader. In August, he was charged with illegally transporting alcohol through dry or moist territory, one of the many liquor laws he sought to change.

The 66-year-old also purchased a $350,000 luxury houseboat in 2004, for which he failed to pay property taxes on for more than a decade.

Morgan’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The controversial “right-to-drive” bills seemingly began popping up in response to the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the fatal police shooting of Black teen Michael Brown back in 2014. Demonstrators blocked the roads at times during the fiery protests. The legislation really picked up attention after Heather Heyer, 31, was killed when a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the white nationalist-backed “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. earlier this year.

Lawmakers in several states, including Tennessee, Texas and North Dakota, have proposed similar legislation that would make it legal for driver to hit protesters. So far, none of them have passed.

“The purpose of bills like this one is to chill free speech, which is a protected right under the First Amendment,” Kentucky ACLU program director Kate Miller said on Sunday. “And certainly you should not be entitled to hit people with your car just because you have been inconvenienced.”

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