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Minn. House Approves Bill Stiffening Penalties For Mass Protests

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- The Minnesota House Monday approved a sweeping public safety bill that includes tough new measures to limit mass protests.

The move comes after demonstrations in Minnesota during the last year. Two separate police shootings of African-American men led to weeks of angry protests in the Twin Cities.

Those angry protests caused widespread disruption on Twin Cities roads and dozens of arrests. But critics say the get tough approach is an attack on free speech.

Minnesota protesters closed down multiple freeways during the last year; demonstrations that sometimes turned violent.

Fed up lawmakers say those protests went beyond free speech -- arguing that disruptive protests endanger public safety.

"If you're on the freeway, if you're blocking an airport, if you're blocking a train, you deserve to go to jail," Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, said.

At least 18 states, including Minnesota, are considering bills to limit mass protests, according to the Washington Post. In Minnesota, up to a $3,000 fine and a year in jail.

The bill is causing strong opposition at the Capitol, where protesters earlier stopped a committee hearing in January.

"I am the great great granddaughter of a slave," Rep. Rena Moran said.

One the House floor, one lawmaker compared police shooting protests to the 250 year struggle of black Americans.

Another vowing the demonstrations will continue.

"You are continuing to say we don't care about you. We don't want to see you. We don't want to hear from you. We find you annoying. We find you a nuisance. And we would like to just have you disappear," Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

This Minnesota bill raises the punishment for blocking four-lane highways, rail lines and roads leading to airports. All of which were targets in the last couple of years of protest over police related shootings of black men.

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