Sen. Raptakis to introduce bill addressing unlawful interference with traffic
STATE HOUSE – Saying he absolutely respects and supports First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful demonstration, Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis is nonetheless concerned that some gatherings have the potential to threaten the public welfare.
Referring to recent demonstrations that have shut down highways in some U.S. communities, such as the recent protest in Boston, Senator Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) announced plans to introduce legislation dealing with and punishing certain kinds of disorderly conduct, specifically unlawful interference with traffic.
“There are ways to demonstrate in a peaceful manner, and there are ways to demonstrate that can be dangerous to other members of the public,” said Senator Raptakis. “Even though it might be unintentional, it is possible that protestors shutting down a highway can delay an ambulance on its way to a hospital, causing grave harm or even death to the individual being transported.”
During the Boston protest, an ambulance had to be diverted to another hospital because of the road shutdown. In that instance, the patient survived. State Troopers in Massachusetts also reported that traffic was so bad because of the demonstration, they had trouble making their way through the traffic jam.
“Legislation I will introduce next week will establish a new section of law, regarding unlawful interference with traffic, and associated penalties,” said Senator Raptakis. “Protestors have rights but so does the rest of the public and this legislation will ensure that individuals who interfere with the safety of others on roadways and highways will face legal consequences.”
Under the Raptakis legislation, 2015-S 0129, a person will be found to have committed the crime of unlawful interference with traffic if he or she “stands, sits, kneels or otherwise loiters on any highway or roadway under such circumstances that the conduct could reasonably be construed as interfering with the lawful movement of traffic” or if that action causes “the interruption, obstruction, distraction or delay of any motorist operating a motor vehicle” on the roadway or highway.
Individuals in violation of the law would be guilty of a felony. A first offense would result in imprisonment of between one and three years, with no eligibility of suspension, deferral or probation for the first 60 days of any sentence. A second violation would increase the prison term to between three and five years, with no eligibility for suspension, deferral or probation for one year. A third violation will result in imprisonment for between five and 10 years, with no eligibility for suspension, deferral or probation for two years.
Under the Raptakis legislation, when the death of any person is a proximate result of any highway interruption or obstruction, the violator would be guilty of “unlawful interference with traffic, resulting in death” and face imprisonment of between three and five years, with no opportunity for suspension, deferral or probation.
Senator Raptakis also referred to the incident in Providence on Route 95 last month, saying it was fortunate that did not result in a life-threatening situation. “I think we all assumed that was a one-time event, but as these protests continue around the nation, I want to make sure that, if it does happen again in our state, we are prepared to deal with individuals whose actions could result in danger to others, not only regular motorists but law enforcement officials who respond to these planned events.”
“America was built on the right of the people to express their views, publicly and as loudly as they choose,” said Senator Raptakis. “But impeding drivers and potentially putting other people in danger, or even at the risk of death, is not the best way to protest.”
For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903