House introduces bill to make protesters pay

Robin Wonsley (front) and Oluchi Omeoga (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

An urgent call for action was sent out from Facebook on Monday, January 23, calling for community members to attend a hearing of a bill which would hold protesters convicted of unlawful assembly and public nuisance liable for costs incurred. House File 322 also known as Bill HF 322, was sponsored by House Republicans and was heard on Tuesday, January 24.

The meeting was jam-packed and ended up requiring the use of an overflow room to fit all the community members that attended the meeting. Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, presented the bill. The meeting started out with testimonies for the bill by representatives, followed by those opposed to it and lasted about 45 minutes.

Community members who objected the bill included Marques Armstrong (left) and Nekima Levy-Pounds joined (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

“They are shutting down freeways, and stopping ambulances, and emergency personal,” said Zerwas. “I think there is a need for this. I think there absolutely is a need for this [bill]. ” He went on to reference the millions spent by taxpayers to pay for police to respond to the unlawful assemblies.

Rep. John Lesch, D-St.Paul, “There is an incentive for any agency to fluff numbers.” He made it clear that it would be hard to figure out real cost incurred by protests.

(l-r) Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Raymond Dehn (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minneapolis, spoke on the bill starting out with a story about her homeland, Somalia. She read directly from the constitution’s First Amendment going over the right to assemble and said, “[With] your bill, it seems like you want us to live under dictatorship.”

Members of the community were allowed to speak, with many calling it “unconstitutional” and an attack on “the voice of the Black community.”

John Thompson, who said he was a friend of Philando Castile, was one of the community members who voiced his anger when the bill passed. (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

The floor was then opened to questions to the representatives, and after questions, the bill was brought to a vote. Community members who opposed the bill erupted in anger after it passed 6-3 along party lines. The hearing abruptly ended.  Next the bill will go to the Housing Public Safety Committee.


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