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Missouri Senate passes bill against road-blocking protesters

Missouri protesters who repeatedly block traffic without permission could face felony charges under a bill passed Thursday by the GOP-led state Senate.

Senators voted 24-9 to send the measure to the Republican-led state House.

Lawmakers pitched the change after protests last summer in the St. Louis area over the death of George Floyd, including demonstrations that blocked major highways.

Republican critics have argued the protest method might block ambulances and puts demonstrators at risk of being hit. But Missouri Democrats said the measure could have a chilling effect on protests.

Blocking traffic without permission would first be punished as an infraction if the bill is enacted. The second offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. A third offense would be a felony, and violators would face up to four years in prison.

The legislation also targets calls to “defund the police” by racial justice advocates. Private citizens could sue Missouri cities and other municipalities that decrease funding for police agencies by more than 12% compared to other departments if the bill becomes law.

Another provision sets up guidelines for internal reviews of possible police misconduct.

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