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This testimony was given by our Executive Director at a public hearing on HB 4615. You can read coverage of the hearing here and here.
I’m here today to stand opposed to HB 4615, the anti-protest bill.
Our nation was founded on protest. Beginning all the way back to colonial Boston when the Sons of Liberty ‘trespassed’ onto the ‘critical infrastructure’ of the day – the sailing ships of the East India Corporation, which had been unfairly granted an import monopoly in tea. Protest is part of our nation’s founding history.
West Virginia also has a rich history of protest. Mother Jones was charged with ‘conspiracy’ and jailed during the Paint Creek/Cabin Creek strike in 1913. Our labor history is alive with protests and ‘trespass’ onto ‘critical infrastructure’ listed in this bill such as railroads and other “freight transportation facilities”
Like another bill moving this session, this one seeks to make illegal what is already illegal. Trespass on posted property is illegal. Destruction of property is already illegal. Current laws are totally adequate to punish such illegal activities.
What this proposal does seek to do is a suppression of freedom of assembly and free speech by imposing onerous and outrageous new fines, felonies, and prison sentences for even “any person or organization who conspires with any person or organization” to violate this new statute. The minimum fine for conspiracy is $5,000 – and there is no upper limit, it could be $50,000; $500,000, whatever! Whole organizations can be targeted with heavy fines if just one of their members violates this new conspiracy language. Or it could be a mole or a scab who is in the crowd with just that intent to trigger this statute.
This bill about as un-American as it gets! I would expect to see this kind of suppression of protest in Russia, or Iran, or some South American dictatorship, not here in the land of the free!
HB 4615 is written so broadly that it could apply to teachers strikes – is a school bus garage a transportation facility? What about the miners who blockaded coal trains to get the pay they were owed? Would they be charged with conspiracy, jailed and fined under this proposal? Peace protesters, civil rights protesters – could all be charged as a group under this conspiracy language if only one of their members violated this proposal.
This bill is a slippery slope toward the tyranny against which the original Tea Party protesters acted. It should be thrown in the trash heap of terrible legislative proposals and left to rot there.