Gov. Dayton vetoes bill increasing penalties for protesters

Protester being arrested on I-94 (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

Governor Dayton has vetoed a bill increasing penalties for protesters who block freeway or mass transit. Although Dayton said he believes blocking access to freeways and airports is a matter of public safety, he  stated the language in the bill is too “vague” and “does not provide clarity regarding the actual crimes.”

Dayton also noted that the penalties for freeway protests should not be harsher than that of assaults, echoing the criticisms voiced by many other Democrats. “The collateral damage of being convicted of a gross misdemeanor is much more significant than a misdemeanor,” Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, told the MSR prior to the governor’s veto. He added, “There are much worse things you can do that are considered misdemeanors.”

Dehn went on to say the bill was a way of “vilifying people that our systems are set up to disadvantage so that when they raise their voices and call attention, this [bill] is a way to try to suppress those types of activities.”

Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, agreed with Dehn, saying the increased penalties would have put protesters in the same category as people convicted of fifth-degree assault and domestic abuse. “Simply put, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” she said. The maximum sentence for a gross misdemeanor is one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

The Republican-led bill was introduced last year in response to protests surrounding police-involved shootings. The bill’s primary author, Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, expressed his disappointment in the governor’s veto, stating that the governor “flip-flopped” on the issue and cited it as “yet another example of Dayton bending to the will of fringe activists rather than listening to every day Minnesotans.

“Once again, the governor has failed to support Minnesota’s law enforcement community, putting them at serious risk.” Zerwas vowed to keep working to protect “law-abiding citizens and police officers” in the state.