Backlash develops over bills limiting liability of motorists hitting protesters (TN version scuttled)

Excerpt from an Associated Press story on the “intense backlash” that has developed over Republican-sponsored bills in state legislatures that limit the liability of motorists who hit protesters following last weekend’s Charlottesville, Va., episode:

The debate over Tennessee’s bill, which would have shielded drivers exercising “due care,” showed how the measures have been divisive.

During a March hearing, Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway said he worried the law would allow extremists to deliberately attack protesters and then claim it was accidental. He cited social media posts from Trump supporters that suggested the bill would make it legal to “run down protesters” when the president visited Tennessee.

“It was providing them the type of motivation, inspiration to get out there and be violent,” he said. “Those who seek to harm others, they think this gives them cover.”

“All Lives Splatter,” read one internet meme that showed a car driving over protesters.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. Matthew Hill, said he did not condone such posts, which he dismissed as ignorant or unfunny. He said he simply did not “want someone to lose their livelihood, their home, their savings” after accidentally hitting a protester they didn’t see. A committee rejected his bill.

… Vanderbilt University graduate student Peter Capretto, 29, said he and three other members of a protest safety team were wearing neon vests and protecting a crosswalk at an intersection when they were struck and carried 200 feet on the hood of an SUV. He recalled screaming for his life until the driver stopped.

“He turned into us, hit us at a relatively moderate speed and accelerated while we were on the hood,” Capretto said. “It was absolutely intentional.”

The driver and his wife told police they feared for their lives after protesters surrounded their SUV, claiming protesters jumped on the hood as they tried to drive away. No charges were filed, and the driver hasn’t faced legal action.

Capretto, who testified against the Tennessee bill, said the Virginia attack triggered painful memories, and “confirmed for me that Republican legislation about driver immunity is emboldening drivers to attack protesters.”

Note: Hill’s bill was HB668, sponsored in the Senate by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron. It failed on voice vote in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.

2 Responses to Backlash develops over bills limiting liability of motorists hitting protesters (TN version scuttled)

  • Linda McCarty says:

    Thank you for including the names of those bil sponsors in the House and Senate. The issues are far too important to simply tell the nature of the legislation. Voters need to know who would sponsor such legislation. Thankfully the House voted it down by a voice vote. But, it concerns me that it was a voice vote because many legislators knew how this bad legislation would be used but we’re afraid to go on the record. Some lawmakers will sponsor any legislation a constituent brings them but silently expects the wisdom of the full body to kill it. Hopefully, Sen. Ketron and Rep. Hill don’t really believe that particular proposal was a good one.

  • Brenda Palmer says:

    Thank you for this update. Your articles really help us in Knoxville be aware of what is taking place in other parts of the state.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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