Dakota Legislatures Crack Down on Protests

FARGO, N.D. (CN) — In response to the Dakota Access pipeline protests, North Dakota’s governor signed four new laws, three of which increase the penalties for protesting.

In signing the laws Thursday, first-term Republican Governor Doug Burgum acknowledged that they were enacted largely in response to protests of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline, which runs from the oil fields in North Dakota down to Illinois.

House Bill 1293 expands the penalties for criminal trespass and allows officers to issue citations to trespassers, making the penalties a $250 fine rather than filing criminal charges.

House Bill 1304 reaches beyond protests, by making it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to wear a mask, hood or other face covering while committing a crime.

House Bill 1426 increases the penalties for riot offenses. It gives prosecutors authority to charge people involved in riots as dangers to public health, safety and well-being.

Senate Bill 2302 expands the state attorney general’s authority to appoint as special agents law enforcement officials from other jurisdictions to enforce specific laws, in other words, to allow out-of-state officers to assist local law enforcement.

The crackdown comes on the heels of other legislative proposals in North and South Dakota aimed at curbing protests in the wake of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

South Dakota’s Senate Bill 176, introduced by Governor Dennis Daugaard, would expand the state’s powers by giving it authority to declare “public safety zones” in which protests could be forbidden.

“The governor’s goal is to be certain that the state has the authority to protect public safety and private property,” Daugaard’s chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, said in an email. “The governor respects the rights of peaceful protesters and he knows the vast majority are not violent or dangerous.” Daugaard is a second-term Republican.

The Dakota, Lakota and Yankton Sioux made world news last year when they established camps to protest the Dakota Access pipeline, which they say violates treaty rights and could foul the reservations’ water. President Barack Obama’s administration eventually put construction on hold, but that was quickly overturned by the new administration of Donald Trump.