CNN's Sara Sidner and Jason Kravarik visitng the Standing Rock camp a day after President Trump signed an executive order calling for the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Jason Kravarik/CNN
CNN's Sara Sidner and Jason Kravarik visitng the Standing Rock camp a day after President Trump signed an executive order calling for the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Now playing
02:35
DAPL protesters: Trump's executive order violates the law
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2018  9:30 AM Judiciary  Hearings to examine the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh, of Maryland, to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. SH-216 Coverage: Coverage: C-SPAN POOL FEED:  Chairman Iso Feed: CAP DA 1,  Witness Camera Iso Feed: CAP DA 2,  Side One Camera Iso Feed: CAP DA 3,  Side Two Camera Iso Feed: CAP DA 4.
CNN
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2018 9:30 AM Judiciary Hearings to examine the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh, of Maryland, to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. SH-216 Coverage: Coverage: C-SPAN POOL FEED: Chairman Iso Feed: CAP DA 1, Witness Camera Iso Feed: CAP DA 2, Side One Camera Iso Feed: CAP DA 3, Side Two Camera Iso Feed: CAP DA 4.
Now playing
02:13
See protesters rattle Brett Kavanaugh hearing
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04:  Protesters dressed in The Handmaid's Tale costume, protest outside the hearing room where Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy on the court left by retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: Protesters dressed in The Handmaid's Tale costume, protest outside the hearing room where Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy on the court left by retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:48
'Handmaids' protest Kavanaugh confirmation
Anti-Trump paraglider
Greenpeace/Twitter
Anti-Trump paraglider
Now playing
01:21
Trump protester breaches security airspace
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 13:  Protesters join a Women's march in central London to demonstrate against President Trump's visit to the UK, on July 13, 2018 in London, England. Tens of Thousands Of Anti-Trump protesters are expected to demonstrate in London and across the country against the UK visit by the President of the United States. Many people disagree with his policies that include migrant family separation, discrimination of transgender military personnel and changes to laws protecting women's sexual health.  (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 13: Protesters join a Women's march in central London to demonstrate against President Trump's visit to the UK, on July 13, 2018 in London, England. Tens of Thousands Of Anti-Trump protesters are expected to demonstrate in London and across the country against the UK visit by the President of the United States. Many people disagree with his policies that include migrant family separation, discrimination of transgender military personnel and changes to laws protecting women's sexual health. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:54
Demonstrators gather in London for Trump visit
A six-meter high cartoon baby blimp of U.S. President Donald Trump hovers next to the statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as it is flown as a protest against his visit, in Parliament Square in London, England, Friday, July 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/AP
A six-meter high cartoon baby blimp of U.S. President Donald Trump hovers next to the statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as it is flown as a protest against his visit, in Parliament Square in London, England, Friday, July 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Now playing
01:24
'Trump baby' blimp takes to London's skies
NY: Liberty Island being evacuated because of a person trying to climb the statue of Liberty   Liberty island is being evacuated because of a person trying to climb the statue of Liberty and U.S. Park Police and NYPD are on the scene, Jerry Willis with the National Park Service tells CNN.
WPIX
NY: Liberty Island being evacuated because of a person trying to climb the statue of Liberty Liberty island is being evacuated because of a person trying to climb the statue of Liberty and U.S. Park Police and NYPD are on the scene, Jerry Willis with the National Park Service tells CNN.
Now playing
01:04
Woman climbs base of the Statue of Liberty
Protesters in Atlanta are carrying a dog crate with baby dolls inside
WSB
Protesters in Atlanta are carrying a dog crate with baby dolls inside
Now playing
00:58
Protesters carry a dog crate with baby dolls inside
congressman protest
CNN
congressman protest
Now playing
00:48
Lawmakers yell at Trump after GOP meeting
President Donald Trump makes a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House on August 14, 2017.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty
President Donald Trump makes a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House on August 14, 2017.
Now playing
01:49
Trump's day-by-day response to Charlottesville
US actor Shia LaBeouf(L) during his He Will Not Divide Us livestream outside the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, in the Queens borough of New York January 24, 2017 as a protest against President Donald Trump.  
LaBeouf has installed a camera at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York that will run a continuous live stream for the duration of Trumps presidency. LaBeouf is inviting the public to participate in the project by saying the phrase, He will not divide us, into the camera. / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY        (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
US actor Shia LaBeouf(L) during his He Will Not Divide Us livestream outside the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, in the Queens borough of New York January 24, 2017 as a protest against President Donald Trump. LaBeouf has installed a camera at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York that will run a continuous live stream for the duration of Trumps presidency. LaBeouf is inviting the public to participate in the project by saying the phrase, He will not divide us, into the camera. / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:45
Shia LaBeouf arrested at anti-Trump protest
Demonstrators march through downtown Houston demanding greater governmental transparency and the release of President Donald Trump's tax returns during a protest Saturday, April 15, 2017. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle/AP
Demonstrators march through downtown Houston demanding greater governmental transparency and the release of President Donald Trump's tax returns during a protest Saturday, April 15, 2017. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Now playing
01:15
Tax marches across the US
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 25: With the White House in the foreground, protesters unfurl a banner atop a crane at the construction site of the former Washington Post office building, January 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. The protestors are with the Greenpeace organization.
Drew Angere/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 25: With the White House in the foreground, protesters unfurl a banner atop a crane at the construction site of the former Washington Post office building, January 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. The protestors are with the Greenpeace organization.
Now playing
00:57
Activists scale crane to protest Trump
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29:  People gather near the U.S. Capitol for the People's Climate Movement before marching to the White House to protest President Donald Trump's enviromental policies April 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. Demonstrators across the country are gathering to demand  a clean energy economy. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
Astrid Riecken/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: People gather near the U.S. Capitol for the People's Climate Movement before marching to the White House to protest President Donald Trump's enviromental policies April 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. Demonstrators across the country are gathering to demand a clean energy economy. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:36
Thousands march to protest Trump policy
Berkeley protesters 01
KGO
Berkeley protesters 01
Now playing
01:04
Fights erupt at California protest
Now playing
00:45
'March for Truth' protests in dozens of cities

Story highlights

Lawmakers in at least 18 states have proposed bills to crack down on protesting

Proponents of the bills say they are commonsense measures to ensure public safety

The trend has alarmed civil rights advocates, who say the measures would trample First Amendment rights

(CNN) —  

Spencer DesAuteles was standing in a crosswalk at a protest against President Donald Trump’s travel ban in January when he and two other people were hit by a car. The Tennessee resident, who was working as a volunteer to keep protestors safe from traffic, said he had the legal right of way when a driver rolled through the intersection.

“I stopped in front of this car,” DesAuteles recounted. “We made eye contact. The driver stopped and then just decided to slowly drive through me. There was nowhere else to go. It was get out of the way or get under the wheels of the car. So we got driven on the hood of this car for some distance.”

No one was injured in the incident, and the Metro Nashville Police Department concluded there were misunderstandings on both sides and therefore no reasons to pursue charges. But under a bill in the state legislature, drivers who do injure protesters blocking traffic would be exempt from civil liability so long as they were “exercising due care.”

“The sponsor was very clear that the wording of the bill is not to say that it’s OK to go and hit people with your car,” DesAuteles said. “But that’s the way that people are reading it. The only way it’s being read by the vast majority of people is: ‘I can hurt protesters and get away with it.’”

Republican state Rep. Matthew Hill, the bill’s sponsor, did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation, which failed to move out of a House subcommittee, although a companion bill is pending before a Senate subcommittee. But the measure is just one of several being considered across the country as state lawmakers react to protests against President Donald Trump and his policies, instances of police brutality, the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and other issues that could continue to draw national attention.

So far, lawmakers in at least 18 states have proposed legislation that would make it harder to protest, create harsher penalties for protestors who are arrested, and, in two states, remove liability from drivers who accidentally injure protesters on roadways.

Proponents of the bills say they are commonsense measures to ensure public safety after the high-profile protests against the Dakota Access pipeline near Cannonball, North Dakota, and against the police shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, area.

But the trend is alarming to civil rights groups and others who say the measures would trample the public’s First Amendment rights.

“Some of these bills are so egregious that you don’t need a law degree to conclude they’re unconstitutional,” said Lee Rowland, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, who has monitored state legislation for more than a decade.

The United Nations has also taken note, releasing a report by the special rapporteur identifying anti-protest bills in 16 states, which the report called “a worrying trend.”

“We are concerned that the above-mentioned bills are incompatible with international human rights law and would unduly restrict the possibility for individuals to freely exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly,” it said. “If adopted, the pending bills could have a domino effect on other states, leading to a general crackdown on protests in the United States.”

Under one bill in Missouri, wearing a mask or disguise while protesting would be a crime, while under another, in Oklahoma, trespassing on property containing critical infrastructure could land a perpetrator a fine of at least $1,000 and six months in jail, with intent to vandalize or actually damaging the structure bringing much stiffer penalties of a year in prison and at least a $10,000 fine or up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine, respectively.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers in Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee and Florida have pushed bills to boost penalties for blocking roads and highways or trespassing, with the Florida bill also exempting drivers from liability for unintentionally injuring or even killing protestors who do so.

Last month, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jimmy Matlock that would make it a misdemeanor to obstruct streets and highways in a way that restricts emergency vehicle access, quadrupling the fine to $200; Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill earlier this month.

In Minnesota, legislators are considering two highway-obstruction bills and a measure that would allow protestors to be sued for the cost of policing their protests.

Republican state Rep. Nick Zerwas, who had a hand in all three bills, said he coauthored one of them after hearing how his constituents were affected when protesters shut down freeways, a tactic he called “the go-to protest move.”

“When you shut down a freeway or you close an airport, it has a real impact and it hurts real people,” Zerwas said.

In the last two years, protesters have shut down Interstate 94 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area after the police shootings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile and also after Trump’s election victory.

“If you stand in the middle of a freeway and try to block a freeway, you deserve to go to jail,” Zerwas said. “It’s really that cut and dry.”

The measures would make obstructing highways, airport entrances or transit vehicles a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison or a $3,000 fine for non-violent offenders or by up to three years in prison or a $5,000 fine for violent offenders.

“The reality is that you have no First Amendment right to free speech or assembly on the center lane on the freeway or the entrance to an international airport or the middle of a train track,” Zerwas said. “It’s already against the law to be there; all we’re doing is increasing the penalty. We are not taking a single protest or free speech activity that is currently legal and making it illegal by passing these bills.”

The bills are part a public safety package of legislation, Zerwas said, adding he is “very hopeful” Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton would ultimately sign the legislation. The third bill, to allow protesters to be sued for the cost of policing, is not expected to pass.

Meanwhile, in late March, the governor of South Dakota signed a bill that caps the number of people allowed to gather on public lands at 20.

Matt Konenkamp, a policy adviser to South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, told CNN the law is meant to deal any protests over the planned construction of the section of the Keystone XL pipeline that will run through South Dakota.

“It patches a hole in our existing law relative to emergency situations,” Konenkamp said. “If we’re force