Social media reaction was hard and swift this weekend against state Sen. George Gainer, the Panama City Republican who filed legislation last session to remove liability for drivers who “unintentionally” hurt or kill protesters or others “obstruct(ing)” traffic.
That was in response to a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where an alleged white nationalist drove his car into another car, which struck a crowd of counterprotesters, according to a New York Times report.
Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old Charlottesville paralegal, was killed; 19 others were injured. Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe later declared a state of emergency.
“Says the guy who wants to legalize murdering protesters with vehicles,” the first reply to Gainer on Twitter said. “Guess who I won’t be voting for next year,” said another.
“You have blood on your hands from the tragedy in Charlottesville. America will be better off when you no longer represent it,” said still another, followed by, “So how does the love go along with murdering protesters? Just asking.”
Gainer was not immediately available Monday morning, nor was state Rep. Jayer Williamson, the Pace Republican who filed an identical companion bill in the House. Both men were first elected last year.
The measures died in committees during the 2017 Legislative Session. A similar bill has not yet been filed for 2018.
Last session’s bill would have created a misdemeanor for anyone who “obstruct(s) or interfere(s) with … traffic on a public road, street, or highway during a protest or demonstration for which a public assembly permit or other applicable special event permit has not been issued by a county or municipality.”
The language at issue says a driver “who unintentionally causes injury or death to a person who obstructs or interferes with the regular flow of vehicular traffic” under the first section “is not liable for such injury or death.” That person would have had the legal “burden of proving that … (an) injury or death was not unintentional.”
Similar bills were filed in at least 18 states earlier this year, after the election of President Donald Trump, the Washington Post reported.