BISMARCK – Lawmakers in that state are set to vote today on a bill that would legalize accidentally running over protesters in the road, one of several new measures across the country that aim to discourage disruptive protests.
House Bill 1203, which began receiving committee hearings last week, was written as a direct response to protests at the Standing Rock reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, against the Dakota Access pipeline, Representative Keith Kempenich, the bill’s lead sponsor.
Kempenich introduced the North Dakota bill, which states that if a driver “unintentionally” causes injury or death to someone blocking traffic on a roadway, then the driver will not be liable for damages.
Kempenich said he was spurred to act after Dakota Access Pipeline protesters last year moved to block public roadways, scaring some of his constituents.
Wes Clark Jr., a military veteran and environmental activist who spearheaded the deployment of at least 2,000 veterans to Standing Rock at the height of the protests last year, likened the bill to “legalizing murder.” Clark said he assumed “any lawyer with a conscience” would challenge it in court if the bill were signed into law.
In recent weeks legislatures in Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa have moved to add laws specifically targeting roadway blocking. The proposed bills have dismayed the American Civil Liberties Union, which fears they would trample First Amendment rights.
House Bill 1203 isn’t the only bill introduced in the North Dakota legislature in response to the pipeline protests. One proposed bill would make it a crime for adults to wear masks, and another would allow the state to sue the federal government over policing costs related to pipeline protests.