New CA bill would double penalties for protestors who obstruct traffic, highways

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Friday, February 16, 2024
New CA bill would double fines for protestors who block traffic
A California assemblymember on Thursday introduced a bill that would double penalties for protesters purposefully obstructing traffic.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- From the blocking of the Bay Bridge during last year's APEC summit to Wednesday morning's shutdown of the Golden Gate Bridge, over the past several months the Bay Area has seen numerous protests that have blocked traffic and interrupted vital freeways.

Assemblymember Kate Sanchez is trying to change that.

Sanchez represents the state's 71st district down in Orange County.

On Thursday, she introduced a bill that would double penalties for protesters purposefully obstructing the flow of traffic in any way that would prevent emergency vehicles from passing.

VIDEO: 80 protesters who blocked Bay Bridge to be charged with 5 misdemeanors, SF DA says

Protesters who blocked the Bay Bridge last month calling for a cease-fire in Gaza will face charges and be arraigned in batches starting mid-December.

"Protesters are trying to score a cheap political point or advance an agenda and, quite honesty, that can have real world devastating consequences," Sanchez said.

Sanchez cites examples like during last November's APEC summit, when around 80 demonstrations shut down traffic on the Bay Bridge for several hours.

That backup delaying the transport of transplant organs to UCSF.

"The response time is so important and critical in these moments, which is the intent of the bill. We need to start taking these lawbreakers very seriously," Sanchez said.

Some of those Bay Bridge protesters are facing more than fines, with San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has filed charges that could mean jail time.

VIDEO: Around 50 protesters demanding cease-fire briefly shut down Golden Gate Bridge, CHP says

Both directions of the Golden Gate Bridge were shut down by Gaza protesters calling for a cease-fire, bringing the morning commute to a halt.

In recent weeks, there have been several demonstrations demanding Jenkins drop those charges.

Santa Clara University law professor, Margaret Russell, says there's a balance between free speech and safety.

"Freedom of speech should be available equally regardless of political viewpoint or subject matter. However, it can be subject to what are called time, place and matter regulations," Russell said.

Sanchez's bill is now waiting to be heard in committee. However, she says she's confident it will ultimately pass.

"Our community has responded, and our law enforcement," she said. "But I will say, most of the response has been this bill doesn't go far enough. Because when you receive more for a speeding ticket than you do obstructing traffic for the flow of emergency vehicles, that's a real problem."

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