Washington Bill Raises Penalties For Blocking Highways After Palestine Protest

The Washington State Legislature is considering a new bill filed Thursday that would increase the penalties for anyone convicted of blocking the Evergreen State’s roadways after a Saturday protest calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war closed off highway I-5 just south of Mercer Street for hours, backing up traffic to six miles at one point.

The police have so far not arrested anyone who blocked traffic on I-5 for Saturday’s political demonstration. But if passed, House Bill 2358 would inflict stiffer penalties on those who engage in such protests by blocking traffic on state highways.

Under the proposal, three or more people gathered to block traffic without legal authority could be found guilty of a gross misdemeanor. Residents could even be charged with a felony if there was a danger to public safety because of their protest — such as a risk of injury, the obstruction of an ambulance, or the refusal to disperse when given a lawful order to do so.

House Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia), who sponsored the bill, says that the state cannot allow protests like the one that happened Saturday to happen again. “It is time to reclaim our roads and send a clear message to those who wantonly break the law and endanger others: Washington will not tolerate anarchy on our highways,” Barkis said.

“Why is it that the people of Seattle and ordinary citizens have to suffer?” Barkis said on KIRO Newsradio this week. “The law is not being enforced, those people were trespassing on the freeway and lives could be lost.”

In the meantime, 35 other lawmakers have co-sponsored the bill, including Rep. David Hackney (D-Tukwila). The next hurdle for the bill to pass is through the House Transportation Committee.

The protest last Saturday called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and shut down I-5 for five hours from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. until authorities finally cleared the blockade. Washington State Patrol (WSP) says it was unprepared for the sheer size of the protesting crowd. There were over 500 protestors and 12 vehicles in the blockade.