This was from a day or two after the racist violence in Charlottesville, which included the vehicular murder of a counterprotester.
Last month, Rep. Pat Fallon filed legislation to protect motorists who hit demonstrators “blocking traffic in a public right-of-way” if the driver exercises “due care.” House Bill 250 would protect drivers against civil liability only but would not lessen criminal penalties for deadly hit-and-runs, a second-degree felony in Texas.
Fallon’s bill has no chance of passing this summer. Lawmakers are scheduled to gavel out the month-long summer special session on Wednesday without even holding a hearing on the measure.
Nevertheless, by Monday morning, the Frisco Republican said he’d received “hundreds” of angry responses from people upset over the events this weekend in Virginia, especially the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old protester struck and killed by a driver who also injured at least 19 other people.
James Alex Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man who rallied with white supremacist groups on Saturday, has been charged with her murder as well as malicious wounding and failing to stop at a crash site that resulted in a death. Fallon said his legislation would not have protected someone like Fields from criminal charges. He blasted the white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville.
“Any jackass that thinks they’re going to be cool because they’re a Nazi, are you serious?” Fallon told The Dallas Morning News. “There’s no room for that,” he added, calling Heyer’s death “horrific.”
Fallon added he was “incredibly offended” that people tied his bill to Fields and those like him.
Representatives with the ACLU in Texas and North Carolina, where similar legislation is being debated, said Fallon’s bill was intended to discourage free speech and assembly.
“The flavor and tenor of this is to quell protest,” said Karen Anderson, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “It is to essentially set up a structure where you protest at your own risk (and) there is a shield for motorists who choose, which happened just recently, to use their vehicle as a literal bludgeon.”
She expressed concern over why the proposal does not define “due care,” and questioned how protesters could prove they were hit intentionally if there was no video footage of the incident, like there was in Charlottesville.
Matt Simpson, a police specialist with the ACLU of Texas, acknowledged Fallon’s bill would not lessen criminal penalties for drivers who intentionally kill pedestrian protesters. But he said the bill would be difficult to implement if it became law and would send “a terrible message” to Texans.
“This is obviously more symbolic than meaningful,” said Simpson. He said he was unaware of anyone who had sued a Texas driver who accidentally hit protesters. “This seems like a solution in search of a problem.”
Seems like there’s a lot of that these days. Rep. Fallon pitched a fit when people pointed out his bill and the potential it had for making life easier for someone who might feel the need to dish out a little four-wheeled havoc. Maybe don’t file such morally vacant bills in the future? Just a thought. All I can say is that if he files the same thing in 2019, he’ll definitely have learned nothing from this experience.