Updated: 2:51 p.m. | Posted: 1:50 p.m.
The Minnesota Senate passed legislation Monday that increases the penalty for protesters who block freeways, airports and public transit from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor.
The vote was 40-27 with several Democrats joining Republicans. The bill, which previously passed in the House, now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton.
The bill is needed to protect protesters and to keep key routes open for emergency vehicles, said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
"We have to make it clear that this is a serious public safety concern for everyone in our state," Ingebrigtsen said.
The push for stricter penalties began after a series of demonstrations over officer-involved shootings blocked local freeways.
Ingebrigtsen and other supporters of the bill insist it would not infringe on free speech.
But opponents disagree.
Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, argued against the bill, saying there were important reasons that people have taken to the streets and blocked highways.
"Because black men have been killed, have been harassed to the point that people couldn't take it anymore," Hayden said. "Folks, we weren't listening to them."
Gov. Dayton has previously expressed openness to the concept of parts of the bill. But he said after the vote that he has concerns and will need to look at the language before deciding whether to sign it.
"They took what I said I could support and they broadened it," Dayton said.