Following a tenuous stand down near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, in which protestors were successfully able to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Republican lawmakers in North Dakota designed legislation introduced last week that would make public demonstrations in the state more dangerous. A law would provide an exemption for drivers who unintentionally injure or kill a pedestrian obstructing traffic on a road or highway.
North Dakota state Rep. Keith Kempenich, a Republican lawmaker friendly with the oil industry, conceded the bill was a response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Kempenich said the law was needed after protesters shut down major roadways and inconvenienced motorists in the state. The highways were often set as a rendezvous point for protesters, but Kempenich did not find this detail compelling. “They’re not there for the protests. They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger,” he said.
In justifying the bill, Kempenich relayed anecdotes from his mother-in-law about a vehicular incident involving a protester waving a sign near the highway. The state representative said an unintentional tragedy could occur if a driver had “punched the accelerator rather than the brakes.”
North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson said that his colleagues need to consider potential changes so that law enforcement is better equipped to deal with civil unrest in the state. “The role of the Legislature is to work with the professionals,” Carlson said. “We won’t violate the right to peaceful protest.”
North Dakota lawmakers are also mulling a law that would make it a crime for an adult to wear a mask in most cases.
“Knee-jerk legislation often is poor legislation,” Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson said to ABC News.