Video: Citing “Negative Perception” House Votes Down Bill Limiting Liability for Hitting People Blocking Roads


Rep. Keith Kempenich (R-Bowman) got a lot of blowback when HB1203, which he sponsored, hit the national media. He told his colleagues during a floor speech today in favor of the bill that he’d like to play some audio of one of the calls he received as a result of that coverage.

“I was told I can’t because we’d have to bleep out every other word,” he said.

The legislation would have limited civil and criminal liability for motorists who hit people intentionally blocking a road. It was prompted by the #NoDAPL protesters who made blocking public roads a routine tactic while opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. But it was characterized in the media as a bill legalizing running people over, which just wasn’t very accurate.

Bill carrier Gary Paur (R-Gilby) said his committee gave the bill a “do not pass” recommendation in part because of its “negative perception.”

“You cannot target somebody,” Kempenich said in defense of his bill of his bill. All it aims to accomplish, he said, is to “put the burden of proof” on the individual blocking the highway.

Rep. Marvin Nelson, a Democrat from Rolla, said the bill was an attempt to “wirte a law for one situation.” He said he spent the last summer, when he was campaigning for governor, intentionally blocking roads. “It’s called parades,” he said.

But Kempenich responded to Nelson’s claim, pointing out that his bill wouldn’t apply to “people who are lawfully doing stuff.”

Still, the bill failed on a 41-50 vote, and that’s probably just fine. While I get what Kempenich was trying to do, and I think the way many characterized his bill was patently unfair, I’m not sure it’s a policy we really need.

If we want to address protests or riots blocking public roads the way to do it is to increase the penalties for that activity.

I think current law suffices for protecting motorists from liability, be it criminal or civil, for a situation created by protesters blocking the road.

Here’s video of the floor debate.

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