- Targets illegal acts intended to disrupt the economy
- Holds planners and organizers of illegal acts accountable
- Protects 1st Amendment rights of free speech, assembly, and petition
OLYMPIA – Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, introduced the Preventing Economic Disruption Act (PEDA) Thursday for consideration during the 2017 legislative session.
Senate Bill 5009 targets illegal activities that aim to create economic harm by impeding legally permitted economic activities. It allows prosecuting attorneys to file special charges that increase penalties for misdemeanors and felonies.
“American citizens have a constitutional right to assemble, to speak freely, and to petition their government via protests,” Ericksen said. “There is no constitutional right to harm other people or to harm the rights of other American citizens.”
The measure is prompted by recent illegal actions that have blocked rail and highway transportation, including a demonstration at a rail chokepoint in Skagit County last summer that blocked traffic between Seattle and Vancouver for 11 hours. Last month an occupation at the tracks leading to the Port of Olympia blocked the flow of goods for a week, and when it was dispersed by law enforcement authorities, participants rampaged through the downtown section of the city, blocking streets, tipping over trash barrels and lighting dumpsters on fire.
Ericksen compared this legislation to existing federal law regarding health clinics. “Federal law is clear that you have a right to protest a health clinic, but you do not have a right to physically deny a person access to a health clinic. The same rules should apply to citizens engaged in other legal activities. We know that groups are planning to disrupt our economy by conflating the right to protest with illegal activities that harm the rights of others. We need this legislation to protect the rights of all citizens.”
The bill clearly states the intent of the legislature to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens: “The Legislature recognizes and fully supports the ability of individuals to exercise their rights of free speech, press and peaceful assembly, and to engage in other constitutionally protected activities. The Legislature finds, however, that there is no right to harm another person or prevent another person from exercising his or her rights.”
When a court finds that a participant in such illegal activities intended to create economic disruption, sentences can be extended 60 days for a misdemeanor, six months for a gross misdemeanor and 12 months for a felony.
The measure also clarifies that those who fund or sponsor such actions can be charged as accomplices. Courts are allowed to levy treble damages. Organizers and funders would not be liable for “bad actors” who infiltrate their events and are not directly coordinated by the sponsors of the event.
The full text of the bill can be found here.