The ACLU is sounding the alarm on proposed Tennessee legislation that would give immunity to drivers who accidentally hit protestors.

The bill would make it a felony to obstruct sidewalks or hallways, and critics say it would be difficult to prove that someone ran over a protestor with intent, CNN reports. The legislation would give complete immunity from prosecution to any driver who “unintentionally causes injury or death to another person” blocking a pathway.

It also upgrades the act of blocking a “highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle or hallway” from a misdemeanor to a felony. Felons cannot vote in Tennessee without going through a process to regain their voting rights. 

The ACLU characterized the bill as a thinly-veiled attempt to crack down on protestors. Brandon Tucker, head of the ACLU’s Tennessee chapter, told CNN it would be working hard to “defeat this disturbing bill.”

"This legislation would suppress protest by turning obstruction of traffic into a felony offense, robbing individuals of their right to vote if they are convicted of these new felony charges. It also offers immunity to drivers who run over protesters in the road and criminalizes speech that causes 'emotional distress' to or 'frightens' another person," he said. "This vague and troubling suppression of free speech can easily be abused, leading to the criminalization of protesters' words and beliefs."

Rep. Ron Grant, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement to Fox Carolina that protestors were the aggressors, not people who injure them.

"This legislation promotes law and order and protects Tennessee communities against violence by safeguarding public roadways and increasing penalties for those who commit these reprehensible acts against innocent people," Gant said. "These senseless acts have no place in a civil society."

Pedestrians in Nashville, Tennessee, after freezing temperatures coated the city in ice Pedestrians in Nashville, Tennessee, after freezing temperatures coated the city in ice Photo: GETTY IMAGES / Brett Carlsen

Similar legislation was proposed in 2017, but neither the House nor Senate drafts made it past their respective criminal justice committees. The bill is not yet active in Tennessee’s Senate, and while anti-protest bills are common in conservative legislatures, ones as extreme as this don’t often get far. 

It’s only the latest Tennessee bill to push the legislative envelope, joining the ranks of an effort to make the Bible Tennessee’s state book and a proposal to remove the permit requirement for handguns. With a Republican supermajority pushing to remove the requirement that gun owners take a class to receive a permit, the latter measure seems likely to pass, WKRN reports. 

“Democrats aren’t against guns. We just want to make sure that people that have guns have been trained on them,” House Democratic caucus leader Vincent Dixie said. “If the bill does pass I encourage my constituents to go get your gun — that’s what I encourage you to do — everyone needs to have a gun.”