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House panel OKs bill that would charge protesters

A Minnesota House committee has approved a bill that would charge protesters for law enforcement costs associated with disruptive demonstrations.

The House Civil Law Committee passed the bill 6-3 on Tuesday, despite outcry from critics who say it could be used to silence dissent. The measure was passed along party lines.

Citizens at Tuesday’s hearing shouted “Shame, shame!” after the vote, prompting lawmakers to walk out without taking up a second measure. John Thompson, who said he was a friend of Philando Castile, a black man who was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer in July, stood up after the vote and yelled: “Being black is a crime in Minnesota. We are coming for your seats.”

The crowd also chanted: “If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace.”

The bill was proposed by Republican Rep. Nick Zerwas of Elk River, who said local law enforcement has spent $2.5 million dealing with protests in the last 18 months. He cited disruptions at the Mall of America, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and protests that blocked traffic on interstates 35W and 94.

He said the bill would allow authorities to sue protesters to recover some of the costs.

“Taxpayers are holding the bag,” Zerwas said. “That’s not right.”

Democratic Rep. Ray Dehn of Minneapolis said the measure doesn’t acknowledge an effort to address what he described as growing racial disparities in the state.

“We need to recognize that life isn’t the same for all of us. Some of us have a privilege we were born with,” Dehn said. “What your bill does is threaten the right of people to make some of us who are uncomfortable a little bit uncomfortable so we can see the change that needs to happen.”

The bill goes on to the House Public Safety Committee.

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