Bill would increase penalties for those blocking roads, railways as part of protests

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 29: Protestors take part in chant durin a demonstration on January 29, 2017 in Seattle, Washington, against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order banning Muslims from certain countries. The rally was one of several in the area over the weekend. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA — A bill proposed in the state Legislature would increase the penalties for those who block roads, railroads and other “legally permitted economic activities” as part of a protest.

The bill, co-sponsored by State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, has been called the “Preventing Economic Disruption Act.” The bill is “prompted by recent illegal actions that have blocked rail and highway transportation” during demonstrations, Ericksen said.

Ericksen said the bill would protect citizens’ constitutional right to free speech and assembly, but punish those who harm the rights of others as part of a protest.

Ericksen has likened the bill to an existing federal law regarding health clinics.

"Federal law is clear that you have a right to protest a health clinic, but you don't have a right to physically deny a person access to a health clinic," Ericksen said. "The same rules should apply to citizens engaged in other legal activities. We know that groups are planning to disrupt our economy by conflating the right to protest with illegal actives that harm the rights of others."

Doug Honig of the ACLU of Washington has previously criticized similar proposals by Ericksen.

"Let's keep in mind that civil rights protesters who sat down at lunch counters could be seen as 'disrupting business' and 'obstructing economic activity,' and their courageous actions were opposed by segregationists as trying to 'coerce business and government.'"

The bill is currently in committee.

State. Sen Ericksen has recently accepted a position in the Trump administration, but plans to retain his seat in the state Legislature.