Montana Dems introduce bill increasing penalties for assaulting journalists

Montana Dems introduce bill increasing penalties for assaulting journalists
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Montana state Democrats on Monday introduced a bill to increase the penalty for assaulting a journalist, a move that comes almost two years after Rep. Greg GianforteGregory Richard GianforteHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 House GOP fears retirement wave will lead to tsunami MORE (R-Mont.) admitted to body-slamming a reporter for The Guardian. 

“I feel pretty strongly that we are seeing an increase in physical and verbal attacks on the press and they need protection,” state Rep. Tom Woods (D), who introduced the Protect the Free Press Act, said, according to Politico

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The measure, if passed, would increase the penalty for assaulting a reporter from a fine of $500 to a maximum of $5,000, Politico noted.

The news outlet added that an individual could face up to a year in jail if convicted of the crime. 

In his announcement, Woods noted that Montana already has strict penalties for assaults against certain groups and that the penalty for assaulting a journalist should go a step further.

For example, assaulting a sports referee could lead to a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months jail. 

Politico noted that the bill was introduced the same day Gianforte was scheduled to speak at the Montana state Capitol. 

Gianforte admitted in June 2017 to body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after the journalist asked him a question about a Republican health care policy in the lead-up to a special election in Gianforte's district. 

Gianforte issued a full apology and agreed to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault.

He received a $385 fine and 40 hours of community service as punishment. He was also mandated to take anger management courses. 

Gianforte's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

Woods introduced the Protect the Free Press Act in the first regular legislative session since the assault, according to Politico.

The chances of the bill passing in the GOP-led state legislature are unclear. But Woods mentioned that Republican lawmakers have consistently talked about the importance of free speech. 

“Our democracy simply can’t function without a free and open press,” Woods said.