The controversial bill that would grant civil and criminal immunity to drivers who intentionally injure or kill protesters while driving away from a riot was signed into law last week by the governor.
Gov. Kevin Stitt signed State House Bill 1674 on April 21.
The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Kevin West (Rep., Moore) and State Sen. Rob Standridge (Rep., Norman).
The legislation is one of a few Republican-backed proposals designed to crack down on protesters.
It is designed to protect drivers who fear for their safety while “fleeing from a riot” and also updates state law to classify as a misdemeanor the unlawful obstruction of a road or highway.
“I certainly support the right to peacefully protest and assemble,” State Rep. West said. “I will not, however, endorse rioters who spill onto city or state streets, blocking traffic and even harming property of vehicle operators who are simply trying to move freely.
“This law gives clarity to those motorists that they are, in fact, within their rights to seek safety.”
The ACLU of Oklahoma says it is in “serious conversations” with its partners on next steps to protect Oklahomans’ right to free speech.
“The power of protest belongs with the people and we will not tolerate these attempts to silence Oklahomans,” said Nicole McAfee, the group’s director of policy and advocacy.
Adriana Laws, founder of the Collegiate Freedom and Justice Coalition, said the Oklahoma Legislature has launched an assault on taxpaying Oklahomans.
Miss Laws was one of about 35 demonstrators that marched through the State Capitol last week afternoon to protest what they described as anti-protest bills advancing through the GOP-controlled Legislature.
“They are targeting groups of protesters who are just wanting to use their freedom of speech,” she said, “and are passing bills that decriminalize the murder of protesters.
“This is absolutely insane.”
The protesters were forced out of the State House gallery the afternoon of April 21 after they started yelling at lawmakers.
At least two protesters were escorted out of the building by members of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, who guard the State Capitol.
Critics of the bill said the Legislature is cracking down on protests following widespread Black Lives Matter and racial justice protests over the summer.
They said, too, the legislation would disproportionately harm Blacks, who believe protesting is their only way of advocating for justice from police misconduct.
Shelley Free, a Tulsa resident who protested at the State Capitol, said although people may be inconvenienced by protesters blocking a roadway, that doesn’t give them the right to harm protesters.
“I find that to be inhumane and a direct attack on our freedoms to assemble and to speak truth to the powers of governance here,” she said.
The bill goes into effect Nov. 1.