Republican-led bill giving immunity to some drivers who hit protesters shelved for now

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Lawmakers punted a bill that stiffens penalties against protesters who block highways and streets.

The bill would also have given drivers who feared for their life immunity — if they injure or kill someone.

“Every protest where there’s cars revving their engines threatening to run people over this bill is a license to hunt and a license to kill,” said Justin Jones, a community organizer.

The impassioned debate extended on both sides the Senate bill’s sponsor said its about protection.

“This in my opinion strengthens the ability for that person to be immune to protect their own life and the life of the person they’re in the vehicle with,” said Republican Sen. Paul Rose said.

The amended bill calls for the first offense to be a class “A” misdemeanor and a fine.

Within a year if another violation happens the penalty for protesting in the street would increase to a class ‘E’ felony and fine.

“In your mind your intention is not to harm someone— your intention is to protect your family of those occupants in your car or maybe even yourself,” Rose said.

Democrats on the committee highlighted former Tennessee Senator Thelma Harper’s previous protest—when she stood in front of garbage trucks heading to dump in her district.

“Had she been stopped back then and this law was in effect, look at all the good work we would’ve missed out on,” Sen. Sara Kyle, a Memphis Democrat said.

Demonstrators at the hearing say lawmakers are encouraging violence against them.

“What is violent is a bill that will encourage cars to run over protesters, what is violent is making it a felony and taking away somebody’s voting right because they’re exercising their first amendment rights,” Jones said.

This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 and WKRN.com for updates.

The bill ultimately was sent to Summer Study. A way to kill the bill for the legislative session.

The bill would have also increased penalties against rioters.

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