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Our verdict on a controversial bill in the Missouri Legislature to regulate protests is a split decision.

It rightly cracks down on protests that block roads. It wrongly penalizes municipalities that defund their police departments.

The bill would do several things, but the biggest effect of the bill might be to crack down on protests that block roads.

As we recently reported, the first violation would result in an infraction. The second violation would result in a Class B misdemeanor. The third would be considered a Class E felony.

We're in favor of that.

We've said this before, but protests that interfere with traffic are disasters in the making. They should never occur.

Opponents of the bill wrongly cast the bill as an attack on First Amendment rights and an attack on people of color.

It's true that the bill was inspired by highway-blocking protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd last year. But the bill would apply to all protesters, regardless of color or other qualifiers.

And while the Constitution guarantees free speech, it doesn't guarantee the right to block traffic.

To suggest that traffic flow and safety should be subject to the whim of protesters is beyond our understanding.

And it is a safety issue for both protesters and motorists.

Opponents have pointed out there are already processes in law geared toward traffic interference. But have such laws been prosecuted? Either way, they don't seem to have discouraged protesters from stopping traffic previously.

The bill also contains a provision that would make it more difficult for municipalities to defund their police. As we reported, if a community should choose to cut funding for police departments by 12 percent over a five-year aggregate, any taxpayer within that community may file an injunction against the community. The bill would then let the state withhold resources from the community.

We're not fans of the "defund the police" movement. But if communities wish to do that, let them. We don't see a compelling reason for the state to intervene.

We ask lawmakers to pass the bill — but without the measure to punish communities for what should be their own funding decisions.

News Tribune

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