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August 23, 2017

Pa. state senators want to make convicted protesters pay for rally costs

A bill introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate last week would make lawbreaking protesters pay any emergency response costs they cause.

The legislation's main sponsor, state Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), said in a statement last week that demonstrators would need to pay up if they're convicted of a felony or misdemeanor stemming from the protest they attended.

That would mean paying any costs or damages they cause, along with any other related "legal, administrative and court expenses." Those convicted would also be on the hook for "the reasonable costs" that pile up when police officers or firefighters are called to the scene, the bill states.

Just how much convicted protesters would have to shell out would be determined during sentencing in court, Martin said.

Martin touted the bill as a way to shield taxpayers from having to pay those costs.

"My goal has always been to protect the constitutional rights of Pennsylvanians as well as the interests of taxpayers,” Martin said. “I think this approach strikes the right balance between these two priorities. It only affects individuals who break the law and cause harm to others or their property, and not the individuals who are simply exercising their rights to free speech and lawful assembly.”

Martin said the bill had been in the works for months. He stressed that it would only target lawbreaking individuals, not groups of peaceful protesters.

But the proposal could still strike a chord in Philly and beyond in light of recent events.

Last Wednesday, on the same day Martin introduced the bill, thousands of demonstrators marched down North Broad Street in response to the violent clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month. Later that night and just a couple of days ago, protesters gathered around the Frank Rizzo statue across from City Hall and called for the city to remove it.

The legislation is headed to the Senate State Government Committee, where it would have to pass through a panel vote before the full Senate can consider passing it.