Arizona lawmaker's bill targets protestors who block roadways

By Howard Fischer / Capitol Media Services
Published: Wednesday, December 27, 2023 - 10:40am
Updated: Thursday, December 28, 2023 - 8:41am

Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
Phoenix police form a line in the face of protesters on 7th Street at Fillmore Avenue in downtown Phoenix on July 8, 2016. Protesters later attempted to shut down the I-10.

A Fountain Hills senator is moving once again to pass laws to lock up — or at least fine — those who get in the way of Arizonans on the road.

Republican John Kavanagh wants to make it a felony for protesters to block a highway, bridge or tunnel for more than 15 minutes after they’ve been told to leave. And his measure would make it a Class 6 felony, which carries a presumptive sentence of a year in state prison.

The idea came to him while he was watching a news report on television about a group of protesters who had blocked the westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge going into San Francisco for about four hours by laying down. They were demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.

Why they were doing it, Kavanagh said, is irrelevant.

“No restrooms, a couple of vehicles had organs that were supposed to be going to a place for a transplant,” he said.

Right now, a general statute about blocking traffic that creates an “inconvenience or hazard” is a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to four months in the county jail and a $750 fine.

That, said Kavanagh, is insufficient.

“It seems to me that if a small group of people literally steal four hours of thousands of people’s lives for their protest, it should be more than a little misdemeanor,” he said.

Under Kavanagh’s bill, the action would have to block at least 200 people from where they are going.

Kavanagh, a former Port Authority of New York police officer, said he doesn’t see this as creating a hurdle for law enforcement.

He added there’s nothing political about the measure and the kinds of protests taking place.

“It could be conservative, liberal, anything,” he said.

This isn’t the senator’s first foray into altering state laws because some motorists are blocked or otherwise inconvenienced.

He pushed legislation in 2016 that made it a Class 1 misdemeanor — that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $2,500 fine — if someone blocks a highway or entrance into a public forum “that results in preventing other persons from gaining access to a governmental meeting, a governmental hearing or a political campaign event.”

Kavanagh tacked the language onto an existing bill after protesters tried to block a Donald Trump rally in Fountain Hills.

PoliticsLaw Enforcement