Ugaste bill aims to keep protesters off major roadways

On April 15, protesters cut–off vehicle access to O’Hare Airport causing major traffic delays, forcing people to exit their vehicles and walk along the expressway, luggage in tow, trying to make their flights on time. Other travelers missed their flights altogether.

The safety issues that resulted from the protesters’ decision to shut down a ramp to O’Hare caused Rep. Dan Ugaste to consider the public safety implications of their actions. Not only did the protesters prevent people from getting to the airport and create a major traffic nightmare, but, their actions could have also delayed first responders and other medical services, like the transport of vital organs, with terrible consequences.

"In light of the recent protests cutting off traffic near O'Hare Airport, it's time to bring greater charges to people who commit these acts," said Ugaste. "What happens when an ambulance can't get through, or a fire truck is delayed? Lives are at stake, and first responders cannot be held up in this manner. Blocking busy roadways is very dangerous and stronger punishments should be enforced."

Last week, Ugaste filed legislation that continues to protect free speech but also ensures safe access to airports and other busy public rights-a-way throughout the state by increasing the penalties for those who block highways.

House Bill 5819 amends the Illinois Public Demonstrations Law by creating stiffer penalties for individuals who block exceptionally busy public rights-of-way for more than five minutes or when their actions prevent the free passage of emergency responders, including police officers, firefighters and ambulances. An exceptionally busy public right-of-way is defined in the legislation as a road that carries 24,000 or more vehicles per day.