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Protesters Shut Down House Committee Meeting Over HF 322

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Angry protesters forced a Minnesota House committee to briefly recess Tuesday morning after it passed a bill that would let local governments sue protesters to recover law enforcement costs.

The measure passed 9-to-6 along party lines in the House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee. Immediately after, an angry crowd erupted in protest over the bill, known as House File 322.

Among the protesters shouting at lawmakers was John Thompson, a friend of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed last summer by a St. Anthony police officer. “Shame on you,” Thompson yelled at lawmakers. “You should leave, because those seats you’re sitting in will be replaced by somebody who represents us.”

Sponsored by Rep. Nick Zerwas (R – Elk River), HF 322 would allow local police departments to charge protesters for the costs associated with demonstrations. He is also behind a bill that would make penalties harsher for protesters who shut down traffic on highways.

“If you violate the law, if you block traffic, if you block access to a building, that’s what this bill is for,” Zerwas said.

The Republican-backed legislation comes on the heels of several high-profile protests in Minnesota, following the police shootings of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark. The large-scale protests have included demonstrations at the Mall of America, on several highways and an occupation of a north Minneapolis police station.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, as well as lawmakers concerned about the legislation, say the bills appear to target protesters in urban areas, particularly citizens and groups concerned about race and equity.

One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. John Lesch of St. Paul, expressed concern Tuesday that peaceful protesters – such as those participating in last weekend’s Women’s March — would be on the hook for law enforcement expenses.

“They would be liable for those costs and this is the fundamental flaw in this law,” he said.

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