Protests could prove costly in Pa. for law-breaking demonstrators

     Protesters march down North Broad street in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, in response to a white nationalist rally held in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    Protesters march down North Broad street in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, in response to a white nationalist rally held in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    A Pennsylvania Senate proposal that would essentially charge protesters for being arrested is causing some backlash at the Capitol.

    The GOP sponsor said it’s a way of protecting taxpayers from bearing the cost of violent or destructive protests.

    But opponents contend it will infringe on free speech.

    First-term Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster County, said he was inspired to write the bill after hearing of the damage Dakota Access Pipeline protesters did last year.

    “With what’s going on here in our county and pretty much in a lot of places when you turn on your TV now, we see people who have the intent of not just coming to exercise their free speech, but people who are coming to cause harm,” he said. “Our resources are precious, and there should be repercussions for that.”

    Under the measure, if protesters are convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, they could be forced to pay the cost of first-responders’ time, as well as be charged for property damage.

    Martin said peaceful protesters generally wouldn’t have to pay anything, but those engaging in civil disobedience would.

    “Let’s say there’s a situation where someone — say they chained themselves intricately to a bulldozer or something like that. Do you know how many resources [it takes] for guys to come out and have to remove these things from people?” he said. “That ties up precious resources.”

    Advocacy groups have pushed back, saying Martin’s bill could discourage even nonviolent protesters and impede free speech.

    The measure will first be considered in the Senate State Government Committee.

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