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Harsher punishments await protestors under Louisiana proposal

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Harsher punishments await protestors under Louisiana proposal

May 29, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Wesley Muller
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Harsher punishments await protestors under Louisiana proposal
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The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill that would enact harsher criminal penalties for anyone who plans or coordinates a protest that impedes traffic such as demonstrators pictured here did on Poydras Street outside the Hale Boggs Federal Complex in New Orleans on Sept. 1, 2021, to demand congressional action on unemployment. (Photo credit: Step Up Louisiana)

The Louisiana Legislature approved a bill Tuesday to set harsher punishment for anyone who conspires to disrupt traffic through public protesting. 

House Bill 127, sponsored by Rep. Mike Bayham, R-Chalmette, received final House concurrence in a 83-15 vote. The measure is now pending approval from Gov. Jeff Landry, who has called for harsh punishments against protestors. 

The proposal expands a state criminal statute that outlaws obstruction of a highway, road, railway, airport runway or navigable waterway by adding a conspiracy component.

Under current law, the crime is considered a misdemeanor punishable with a $250 fine, six months in prison or both. It applies to anyone who physically performs an act, such as protesting or placing an obstacle on a street, that makes it harder for vehicles to pass.

Bayham’s bill increases the fine to $750 for the misdemeanor act of obstructing a road. It adds a new provision to specifically go after protest organizers by applying the statute to anyone who conspires or assists others in a demonstration that blocks or slows down traffic. 

There was no debate ahead of final passage for the bill on the House floor Tuesday.

Protest organizers could face harsher criminal penalties in Louisiana

In a previous floor debate, Bayham said his bill would still allow people to lawfully assemble for a government-approved protest, and he added it would protect public safety by preventing protests from slowing down emergency vehicles. 

In the past, the governor has criticized protests organized in support of human rights and other liberal causes, but he has not leveled that same criticism toward those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.  

Most recently, Landry praised police for clearing students on Tulane University’s campus who were protesting Israel’s war in Gaza. He has also called for revoking the scholarships of college athletes who refused to stand for the National Anthem in protest. 

In 2022, Lafayette Police arrested two women on charges of disturbing the peace for protesting outside of a meeting at which then-Attorney General Landry was the guest speaker. A judge later acquitted the women of wrongdoing, according to The Advocate.