Bills aimed at scaring off protests against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline are moving through both the Minnesota House and Senate. They would limit free speech and hold peaceful protesters accountable for the actions of others.
The bills, HF 3693 and SF 3463, apply to “critical infrastructure,” things like airports and crude oil pipelines. The bills create new criminal and civil penalties on Minnesotans exercising their constitutional rights to protest controversial projects such as the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. The bills are a clear attempt to intimidate and silence pipeline opposition.
All that you really need to know about the bills is they are coming from boilerplate legislation proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group which gets significant financial backing from the Koch Brothers and large energy corporations, according to PR Watch. (See ALEC’s website for more on its “Critical Infrastructure Protection Act.”)
The bills’ key legal term is “vicarious liability.” It means if there is a protest on the pipeline company’s property and there is property damage, the company could sue not only the individuals involved in the direct action (current law), but anyone — or any organization — who trained, aided or supported them.
The bill is vague and opens the possibility for multinational corporations like Enbridge to engage in harassment lawsuits against Honor the Earth, the Sierra Club, faith communities supporting civil disobedience and others who oppose the project. The suits wouldn’t have to win, they would simply make people and organizations afraid to engage in this country’s age-old tradition of protest because of the threat of severe fines and imprisonment.
This bill would be particularly burdensome on Native American nations and Native-led organizations who have the most at stake. Their communities will be on the front lines of the protest trying to protect their treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather on the lands along the pipeline’s proposed route. Their communities have the least resources to deal with law suits.
On Wednesday, HF 3693 passed out of the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee on a party-line vote and now goes to the House floor. SF 3463 passed out of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee on a party line vote and now goes to the Senate floor.
The only thing standing in the way of “vicarious liability” becoming law is Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto pen. There’s no time like the present. Pick up the phone and give Dayton a call: 651-201-3400. Ask him to get ready to veto HF 3693 or SF3463. Continue reading