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Legislature approves protest-response laws, while governor sends letter to tribal leaders

Pipes for underground fuel transport for TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline lie in a field in Gascoyne, N.D., on April 23, 2013. A U.S. State Department study on the environmental impact of the Keystone XL oil pipeline will not represent a final decision on whether the United States will allow the project to go forward, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on January 31, 2014. REUTERS/Nathan VanderKlippe

PIERRE — State government officials fear protesters might try to disrupt traffic in South Dakota in an attempt to block construction supplies for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Legislature responded by giving final approval Friday to new restrictions sought by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

State senators voted 25-10. The measure, SB 176, has an emergency clause to take effect immediately upon the governor signing it into law rather than the standard July 1 date.

The House of Representatives voted 55-12 for it Thursday.

The governor meanwhile sent a letter Thursday to presidents and chairmen of the nine tribal governments that have land in South Dakota.

Daugaard said he understands the pipeline is "of grave concern to our tribal citizens" and many people from across the country "very likely" would come to South Dakota to help express the concern.

"It is my hope that any attempt to stop the construction of the pipeline would be made through the legal system and the lawful exercise of free speech, and not by other means," the governor wrote.

Daugaard invited the tribal leaders to a series of roundtable discussions about how to "fulfill our shared desire to manage potential protests in an effective, cooperative way."

The legislation places restrictions on standing next to a stopped vehicle along a highway and sets a 20-person limit on tracts of state-owned school and public lands.

State government has thousands of acres of public lands along TransCanada's proposed 313-mile path for the Keystone XL through Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman and Tripp counties of South Dakota.

The line would carry crude oil from tar sands mines in Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Legislators said the North Dakota protest camps against the Dakota Access pipeline provided a lesson that South Dakota must be prepared.

The governor needed several attempts in each chamber of the Legislature to get the bill to final passage with the emergency clause.

"This is just another tool to make sure we have peaceful protests in the community and not allow things to get out of hand," Sen. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish, said.

Sen. Neal Tapio, R-Watertown, tried to kill the bill Friday. He said his main concern is North Dakota was left with a $35 million bill.

There need to be a provision that protest organizers would be responsible for expenses that result from their actions, Tapio said.

"I am a firm believer in having some mechanism to address it, address those issues," Tapio said.

Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said the legislation helps South Dakota be prepared for opponents of the pipeline.

"I welcome you to come to South Dakota and protest peacefully. But I think the message is also you have to play by the rules," Novstrup said.

Allowing the camp to start in North Dakota led to "where things went wrong up there," said Sen. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg.

"It was so unorganized on both sides. This is an effort to at least start from somewhere," Cronin said.

State government needs to be cognizant of local control, said Sen. Kevin Killer, D-Pine Ridge, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Sen. Troy Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, likewise sought the bill's defeat.

"When we start limiting access I think we are walking a very thin line on what is constitutional and what isn't," Heinert, D-Mission, said.

He urged the governor and tribes to keep working on how to respond.

"I don't know if we fully understand the level of commitment that some of these people...are willing to let their voice be heard," Heinert said.

When the House of Representatives debated the bill Thursday, House Democratic leader Spencer Hawley of Brookings said he changed his position to favor it.

Hawley said the reason was an intelligence briefing Wednesday night about what might happen before July 1 when the law would normally start.

Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, said it's "a poorly written bill" and urged its defeat, calling it "an eleventh-hour issue."

"We haven't involved the tribes until now," Kaiser said. He said state officials had a lot of time. "We're just sending out letters now."

A police officer, Kaiser said blocking roads already is illegal. He said all of the laws needed were already in place.

"I don't know what kind of statement we're trying to make with this. In my estimation, it's a very poor one," Kaiser said.

But House Republican leader Lee Qualm, of Platte, said state government didn't know until President Donald Trump took office in January that Trump would invite TransCanada to seek approval to pierce the border and enter the United States.

"We had no clue," Qualm said about needing to prepare for the possibility of protests in South Dakota.