A bill that increases the governor’s scope to react to a large scale protest now heads to the Senate Floor.
The governor’s office says Senate Bill 176 is legislation that aims to keep protests peaceful when the Keystone XL pipeline gets built. Opponents say it’s a restriction on free speech.
Senate Bill 176 lets the governor declare a public safety zone, establishes the crime of criminal trespassing, limits the number of people on public and school lands, as well as allows out of state lawyers to help with an increase in number of defendants.
Matt Konenkamp, with the governor’s office, says the bill is meant to protect Native American activists who want to protest peacefully against the Keystone XL Pipeline from career protesters, like ones up near Standing Rock…
“The peaceful, spiritual protests of the Native Americans has been hijacked by environmentalists who do want to create chaos and who do want to cost the State of South Dakota money. This bill is designed to people who would ignore the rule of law, it is not designed to prohibit people from exercising free speech.”
First time criminal trespass offenders in the public safety zone get a minimum 10 days in jail. A second offense is a Class 6 felony.
Libby Skarin is with the ACLU of South Dakota. She says the bill’s vague language can be used to limit free speech.
“Robust protests, as uncomfortable as they may make some, are a sign of a vibrant and successful democracy. Silencing them should not be a legislative priority. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that claims of outside agitators have been used throughout history to limit first amendment rights. Perhaps most notably during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.”
Several tribal leaders also testified against the bill.
An amendment by Senator Blake Curd adds an expiration date of July first, 20-20. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.