PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Rhode Island lawmaker said Friday that he’ll introduce a bill making it a felony to block a highway, like protesters did in Boston a day earlier.

State Sen. Leonidas Raptakis said he supports First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful demonstrations but is concerned some gatherings could threaten public welfare.

Demonstrators alleging racial profiling and violence by police against minorities blocked a busy Boston-area highway used to connect to Providence during the Thursday morning commute and caused lengthy traffic jams, inconveniencing thousands of people and preventing an ambulance from getting through. A similar protest shut down I-95 in Providence for 15 minutes in November.

Raptakis, a Democrat, said his legislation would establish a new section of law regarding unlawful interference with traffic. He said it would make it a felony, instead of a misdemeanor, to sit, stand, kneel or otherwise loiter on any major roadway in a way that disrupts traffic.

“As these protests continue around the nation, I want to make sure that if it does happen again in our state, we are prepared to deal with individuals whose actions could result in danger to others, not only regular motorists but law enforcement officials who respond,” Raptakis said.

Raptakis said Democratic Rep. Raymond Hull, a police sergeant in Providence, will introduce the bill in the House. He said the bill would mandate that first-time offenders spend 60 days in jail.

“We’ve really, really got to tackle this issue and strengthen the laws and send a strong message,” Raptakis said.

A Massachusetts lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Colleen Garry, also has proposed making it a felony to block highways.

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