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Dunleavy proposes crackdown on unpermitted public protests


Dunleavy proposes crackdown on unpermitted public protests

Feb 22, 2024 | 12:30 am ET
By Claire Stremple
Dunleavy proposes crackdown on unpermitted public protests
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration introduced legislation on Wednesday that would criminalize unpermitted street protests and other activities that block passage through public places. Certain types of protest could be counted among the state’s most serious crimes.

Dunleavy said the proposal is aimed at increasing public safety. Civil rights advocates say the potential infringement of Alaskans’ First Amendment rights is concerning.

House Bill 386 would impose penalties for obstructing highways, navigable waterways, airport runways and other public places — specifically in situations where there is a significant risk of physical harm or interference with emergency response efforts, according to a news release.

The civil liability could be as severe as a class C felony.

Class C felonies are the least serious felony conviction in Alaska, but they can still result in five years of prison time or up to $50,000 in fines. Certain types of protesting would join other class C felonies like first-degree stalking, theft of a firearm, coercion, rioting and evidence tampering.

Dunleavy said his proposal would ensure safe and accessible public spaces for all Alaskans. “It is important to distinguish between peaceful expression of rights and actions that pose risks to public safety and emergency response efforts,” he said in a news release.

The proposal has prompted scrutiny from the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

“Given the Governor’s poor track record for upholding 1st Amendment rights for Alaskans, we are giving this bill a very close look. We want to ensure that this bill maintains the right of the people to peaceably assemble and ensure that it does not infringe on Alaskans’ other constitutionally-protected rights,” ACLU of Alaska spokesperson Meghan Barker wrote in an email.

In the last several years, the United States has seen a swell of bills that would limit protest. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law has tracked these protest bills nationwide since 2017. Most states have passed at least one; more than 20 other states have protest bills pending.

In Oklahoma and Iowa, lawmakers have gone as far as shielding drivers from civil liability if they hit protesters with their vehicles. Floridians may not be sued if they injure or kill a protester that is participating in a riot, according to a 2021 law.

Correction: The photo caption originally published with this article was incorrect.