Column: Highway obstruction bill protects public safety, doesn’t deter free speech

Kathy Lohmer
Kathy Lohmer

BY KATHY LOHMER
GUEST COLUMNIST

Recently the Minnesota House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee approved my bill that would strengthen the penalty for intentional public highway obstruction.

We’ve all seen what can happen to Interstate 94 when a group of people decides they’re upset about something and want to shut it down. This is dangerous not only for the protester but for oncoming drivers, as well as law enforcement who will ultimately be forced to remove these lawbreakers.

Current law notes it is illegal to obstruct a highway, but the misdemeanor penalty clearly has done nothing to deter this behavior. Under my proposal, illegal highway obstruction would become a gross misdemeanor, which increases the probability for a stay in jail, higher fine and longer probation.

Let me be clear: this bill does not seek to limit the people’s right to protest or to gather or limit their free speech in any way. It simply increases the penalty on a law that already spells out that it’s illegal for pedestrians to obstruct a specific roadway.

I am passionate about this issue for a number of reasons. On numerous occasions over his 35 years, we have been forced to transport our son Nick to the hospital. Having been born with spina bifida, he deals with hydrocephalus, otherwise known as water on the brain. This is managed by placing a shunt within the ventricles of the brain, but when that shunt became infected, Nick needed immediate medical attention.

I can recall more than a few occasions where my husband and I quickly drove Nick to a St. Paul hospital when he was experiencing an infected shunt. I can’t imagine sitting for hours on a freeway, stopped and not being able to get to the hospital in a timely way with a child in a significant amount of pain and no way to move forward. Inevitably, some Minnesota family is going to face this scenario if pedestrians continue blocking interstates.

Am I trying to deter this behavior? You bet. Motorists and emergency personnel should not be put at risk if a group of people is upset about something and decides to walk in the middle of Interstate 94 to be seen and heard.

The freedom to speak openly is one of our most treasured rights as Americans. But it is not your right to break the law, and it is not a peaceful protest if lives are put in jeopardy due to your actions. That is why the illegal highway obstruction law is already on the books, and why I am hoping to increase penalties on those who choose to participate in this unlawful behavior.

Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, represents District 39B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

  • Marilyn Madd

    Thank God, a legislator with some common sense. What ever happened to protestors getting a permit to protest? Free speech for one person should not be at the expense of freedom of movement of another person.