HOUSE VOTES TO FINE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS FOR PROTEST ACTIONS

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By Miriam Raftery

January 4, 2016 (Washington D.C.) – The new Republican-led House of Representatives has passed a resolution to impose fines on members who stage protests on the House Floor.

The action aims to crack down on actions such as last year’s sit-in staged by House Democrats after Republicans ordered cameras turned off cameras to prevent C-Span from broadcasting a debate over a gun control measure by California Senator Dianne Feinstein. San Diego Democrat Scott Peters live-streamed video of the demonstration from his cell phone and posted it on social media, drawing national attention to the issues.

Republican leaders contend their resolution banning such actions in the future is needed to restore “decorum,” according to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican.  A House member can now be fined $500 for breaking rules of debate, with $2,500 for each additional offense.

But critics say sit-ins and other nonviolent forms of protest are cherished means of free speech that have been effective in bringing about change, such as during the civil rights movement.

Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), a long-time civil rights leader who led the Congressional sit-in, had this reaction to House Republicans’ crackdown on protests by House members. 

“No Congress, nobody, no committee has the power to tell us that we cannot stand up, speak up and speak truth to power,” Representative Lewis declared on the House Floor. “We have a right to dissent. We cannot and will not be silent.”