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Senate panel passes protest bill over tribes' objections

PIERRE (AP) -- Gov. Dennis Daugaard's bill to make it clear that the governor's emergency response powers apply to potentially destructive protests passed its first legislative test Wednesday over the objections of Democratic lawmakers and tribal...

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South Dakota State Capitol

 

PIERRE (AP) - Gov. Dennis Daugaard's bill to make it clear that the governor's emergency response powers apply to potentially destructive protests passed its first legislative test Wednesday over the objections of Democratic lawmakers and tribal officials.

A Senate panel voted 6-3 to advance the public safety bill, which the administration says is based on lessons North Dakota officials learned from large demonstrations over the Dakota Access pipeline. The bill would create new trespassing penalties and make it a crime to obstruct highways.

Matt Konenkamp, a policy adviser to the governor, said that the bill would allow the entire state to deal with potential issues, rather than individual counties, not unlike how the state deals with a disaster. He said it's meant to address people who would ignore the law, not prohibit people from exercising free speech.

Daugaard said last week that President Donald Trump's January executive order to advance the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline made him realize that protests could come if construction began in South Dakota.

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"This is not directed at any race," Daugaard said. "This is directed at aggressive activists who threaten other people regardless of race."

But Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue said the proposal goes against protesters and the First Amendment. Sazue said he thinks it's targeting Native Americans.

"We're going to be divided," he said. "We'll probably even go as far as closing our borders."

Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier said he would look at suing the state if the bill becomes law.

The bill would allow the governor to declare an area a "public safety zone" if an event occurs that may consume significant public resources, poses a threat to property and threatens the health and welfare of the public.

The governor's emergency authority includes assuming control over emergency management functions, declaring an emergency in a stricken area and helping local authorities give relief and controlling access to designated emergency areas. The governor can mobilize state resources and coordinate local resources in an emergency.

The proposal would make it aggravated criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, to defy a posted order not to enter a public safety zone. The sentence would be at least 10 days in county jail, and a second offense within two years would be a felony.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor for someone to stand in the highway to stop traffic.

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Under some circumstances, the bill would allow the commissioner of school and public lands, at the governor's request, to block any group larger than 20 people from gathering on any piece of land under the office's supervision, which totals roughly 760,000 acres across the state.

If passed, the South Dakota law would expire in 2020.

In North Dakota, more than 700 protest-related arrests have occurred since August, though activity has recently waned. The Army Corps of Engineers set a Wednesday deadline for Dakota Access oil pipeline opponents to vacate their encampment on federal land in North Dakota.

Rebecca Terk, a lobbyist for conservation and family agriculture group Dakota Rural Action, said lawmakers shouldn't take policy cues from North Dakota.

"What happened in North Dakota was that the state government worked with a corporation to terrorize people gathered to peacefully express their First Amendment rights," she said. "If we don't want what happened in North Dakota to happen here, then our state needs to take a different path."

Related Topics: DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE
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