Home>Feature>AZ Senator Kavanagh Makes Blocking Traffic a Felony
Senator John Kavanagh (then a State Representative) and House Speaker Ben Toma at the 2019 Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona.
Senator John Kavanagh (then a State Representative) and House Speaker Ben Toma at the 2019 Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

AZ Senator Kavanagh Makes Blocking Traffic a Felony

Seeks to criminalize protest behaviors that negatively impact citizens

By Steve Kirwan, January 2, 2024 5:00 am

Arizona seeks to become one of the first states to outlaw protestors who block traffic. AZ Senator John Kavanah, R-LD3 (Fountain Hills), is proposing a new state law that would make blocking traffic a felony. In a recent interview with Capitol Media Services, Kavanagh stated that the idea came to him after watching anti-Israel protestors block westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge, snarling traffic heading into San Francisco. The protestors, who were demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, created a four-hour traffic jam and caused untold hardships for thousands of Golden State drivers.

Citing a range of issues from lack of restrooms to causing delays in critical organ deliveries, the Senator stated that such behavior was unacceptable, no matter the intention. In Maricopa County, the Copper State’s largest in population, the current statute prohibits any activity that creates an “inconvenience or hazard” for traffic. Currently, violating the ordinance is a Class 2 misdemeanor, carrying but a maximum of four months in the county jail and up to a $750 fine. Kavanagh states that the penalty is insufficient.

“It seems to me that if a small group of people literally steal four hours of thousands of people lives for their protest, it should be more than a little misdemeanor,” he said.

The measure would exempt city surface streets, and would require that the action block at least 200 people. In addition, it only applies if protesters remain for more than 15 minutes after being told to leave. Kavanagh is the perfect source for what appears to be a rational and well-considered compromise law: he spent 20 years with the New York Port Authority, retiring as a Detective Seargent.

Although California law enforcement used a variety of laws to ultimately remove the protestors, including false imprisonment, refusing to comply with a police officer, unlawful public assembly, and refusing to disperse, Kavanagh stated that it made more sense to have a law that deals directly with the issue. He added while other statutes could be applied, it was more fair to clarify what laws were broken.

“People need to have fair warning for what’s illegal,” Kavanagh said, adding, “This is straightforward: If you do this, this is what happens.”

Kavanagh also addressed potential concerns over political aspects of the law, stating, “It could be conservative, liberal, anything. It doesn’t make any difference what you’re protesting. You don’t literally hold hundreds of people captive because of your protest.”

Kavanagh is no stranger to wading into this topic. In 2015, he passed a law making it a Class 3 misdemeanor subject to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine to intentionally activate a pedestrian signal in order to panhandle. And, in 2016, in response to aggressive attempts to block attendees at a Trump rally and to block Trump himself from arriving, he upgraded the Class 3 Misdemeanor to a Class 1. If you intentionally block a highway or entrance into a public forum, he instituted a possible penalty of up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“I consider that kind of behavior extremely corrosive to democracy,” Kavanagh previously explained. He opposes an action “that results in preventing other persons from gaining access to a governmental meeting, a governmental hearing or a political campaign event.”

 

 

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