North Dakota Republicans Want to Protect Drivers Who Hit DAPL Protesters*
Pro-pipeline state lawmakers are proposing a rash of bills that will criminalize protests and put protesters lives in danger.
Water protectors in North Dakota may need to be more careful when crossing the street if a proposed bill to exempt drivers who “unintentionally” hit or kill pedestrians who are blocking traffic is passed.
Republican state lawmaker Keith Kempenich introduced legislation to make an exemption for drivers who unintentionally injure or kill pedestrians who are obstructing traffic on public roads.
“It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian,” Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, told the Bismark Tribune.
Kempenich’s 72-year-old mother-in-law was blocked by a group of protests on a roadway and he admits the law specifically targets protesters.
“It’s shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their right to protest in a public space,” Tara Houska, National Campaigns Director for Honor the Earth, told NBC News. The bill has six other sponsors.
North Dakota’s Republican-led state legislature has pushed forward a number of bills allegedly designed to appease constituents who claim they are tired of the ongoing protests.
Another proposed bill aims to criminalize the use of masks at protests by adults which is similar to a previous law aimed at the Ku Klux Klan.
“These (bills) are meant to criminalize the protests with no real concern for constitutional law,” said Houska.
State Senator Kelly Armstrong said that people were “having their lives disrupted” by the ongoing protests against the US$3.8 billion project, where protesters started occupying camps in April 2016. However, Armstrong admitted that is was difficult to enact so-called “protests laws.”
Because of the expensive law enforcement costs over the protests – estimated at over US$22 million, another bill would see North Dakota’s attorney general sue the federal government to help cover the costs. There have been around 600 arrests of pipeline protesters, often with brutal force across the region since Aug. 2016.
Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said that the bills are “being drafted without consultation, consent or even basic communication.”
Democrat Marvin Nelson, who has visited the protest camp at Standing Rock, was critical of the proposals, saying “Knee-jerk legislation often is poor legislation.”
In another blow to efforts against the pipeline, Republican Senator John Hoeven was picked by President-elect Trump last week as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Hoeven is known as an avid supporter of the project and the oil industry.
Recently-elected North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum also said this week that he that he believed the project would inevitably be built once Trump officially becomes president this month.