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Illinois lawmaker seeks to make it a felony for protests to block major roads

Lawmaker files bill to make it a felony for protests to block major roads
Lawmaker files bill to make it a felony for protests to block major roads 00:27

CHICAGO (CBS) -- After a group of pro-Palestinian protesters blocked expressway traffic into O'Hare International Airport earlier this week, an Illinois state lawmaker is pushing to make similar protests a felony.

Rep. Dan Ugaste (R-Geneva) has proposed legislation that would amend the Illinois Public Demonstrations Law to make it a Class 4 felony – punishable by 1 to 3 years in prison – for anyone to block "an exceptionally busy public right-of-way" for 5 minutes or longer in a way that prevents police, firefighters, paramedics, or other emergency responders from getting through.

The law would define an "exceptionally busy public right-of-way" as any road that carries at least 24,000 vehicles in a 24-hour period.

"In light of the recent protests cutting off traffic near O'Hare Airport, it's time to bring greater charges to people who commit these acts," Ugaste said in a news release. "What happens when an ambulance can't get through, or a fire truck is delayed? Lives are at stake, and first responders cannot be held up in this manner. Blocking busy roadways is very dangerous and stronger punishments should be enforced."

Ugaste's district includes several western and northwestern suburbs west of O'Hare.

On Monday, protesters blocked the Interstate 190 access road to O'Hare for more than an hour, while wearing signs reading "Free Palestine" and "Stop Genocide." Organizers said they were calling for a free Palestine, and protesting what they said is an ongoing genocide by Israel against civilians in Gaza.

During the protest, vehicles could not drive to the arrival or departure terminals at O'Hare to drop off or pick up travelers. Several travelers who got stuck in the resulting traffic jam ended up walking along the shoulder of the expressway to get to O'Hare, while others missed their flights.

Police arrested 40 protesters before the road reopened.

Similar protests were held the same day in other cities.

A group of protesters completely blocked traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge connecting San Francisco to Marin County in California.

Protesters also blocked all northbound lanes of Interstate 880 in Oakland, California. 

Demonstrators also rushed onto the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and the Hamilton Fish Newburgh-Beacon Bridge in Beacon, New York.

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