SD 2044 all about special treatment for energy

Don Morrison

Dakota Resource Council

Bismarck

On Jan. 18, North Dakota legislators introduced a bill, which would create new crimes with stiff penalties for “critical infrastructure trespass,” and “impeding critical infrastructure.” According to the sponsor, Senator Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, the bill seeks to prevent damage to energy operations, telecommunications infrastructure and other critical facilities. In reality, it would continue bestowing special treatment for energy companies over agriculture and other interests while intimidating law-abiding citizens from exercising their constitutional right to free speech.

Senate Bill 2044 is nearly identical to one promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an out-of-state lobby group dedicated to advancing large corporate interests in state legislatures. Recently, this legislation was introduced in other states including Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Ohio and Idaho. In 2018, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead vetoed a nearly identical bill calling it “flawed,” citing adverse impacts to farmers, ranchers, and landowners. It is referred to as the “zombie bill” after being defeated again in 2019, for good reason.

This bill doesn’t actually make people safer. Rather, it allows energy companies to trample on those who disagree with them. If the Legislature really wants to make North Dakotans safer, they should adequately maintain our roads and bridges and ensure our infrastructure is secure from cyber-attacks.

North Dakota already has strict laws criminalizing vandalism, trespass, and property destruction – and rightly so. This legislation is just plain redundant.

This bill is vague, and would create confusion for both law enforcement and the public. It doesn’t give clear enough direction for law enforcement to protect them from risks of lawsuits. Who will pick up the tab for lawsuits because of an unconstitutional law this time?

It would put North Dakota churches and nonprofit organizations at risk of prosecution by creating a “conspirator” clause whereby they could be held responsible for unlawful actions at an event opposing something an energy company wants to do. For example, an organization could provide food and water or help plan turn out for a peaceful demonstration and then be guilty of conspiracy and fined up to $100,000 if someone commits an unlawful offense at the event. That is chilling.

I urge North Dakota legislators to stand up against this vague, unnecessary over-reach. Now, more than ever, we need to stand together to protect our basic freedoms that are crucial to our democracy. I ask my fellow North Dakotans to call or write your legislators and ask them to oppose Senate Bill 2044.

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