PIERRE - As the protest camp emptied Wednesday morning of most of the people battling the Dakota Access pipeline crossing of the Missouri River in North Dakota, legislators in South Dakota began considering a potential state law aimed at punishing protests over another oil pipeline.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard wants temporary powers to stop people from assembling in South Dakota, in places that would be designated as public safety zones by the governor.
The governor wants a new offense called aggravated criminal trespass for people who defy orders to stay out of public safety zones, and the authority for judges to put offenders in jail for up to a year for first offenses, and in prison for two years for second or subsequent offenses.
One part of the proposed law would punish protesters who block highways. It specifically allows prohibiting people from standing outside vehicles on a highway in a public safety zone.
Clearly showdown time must be coming. The mood was tense in the Capitol meeting room Wednesday morning as senators considered the governor's proposed wording.
One of the governor's aides, Matt Konenkamp, repeatedly referred to outside agitators, and drew a distinction with accepting peaceful protests, in his remarks to senators.
The law, if the Legislature passes it, would automatically be repealed July 1, 2020. The project at issue is the TransCanada Keystone XL. The law is intended to cover construction of Keystone XL.
Last month President Donald Trump invited TransCanada to re-submit its federal application to pierce the Canada-U.S. border. Within two days TransCanada did. That set a 60-day clock running for a decision.
The state Public Utilities Commission has already granted permission and set conditions for construction and operation of Keystone XL through western and south-central South Dakota.
The senators Wednesday heard arguments and allegations from the perspectives of tribal members who supported the North Dakota protest against the Dakota Access pipeline. And they heard how extremely limited law enforcement is in the extremely rural counties where the Keystone XL pipeline would be laid in South Dakota.
TransCanada's route for Keystone XL avoids the Indian reservations of western and central South Dakota. But it comes within a few miles of Bridger along the Cheyenne River, at the southwestern corner of the Cheyenne River reservation.
The Cheyenne River is one of the main tributaries of the Missouri River. The Cheyenne flows the width of western South Dakota, from the Black Hills into the Oahe reservoir upstream of Pierre.
Much like the North Dakota crossing for Dakota Access upstream from a drinking water system for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Keystone XL crossing on the Cheyenne River would be upstream from public water systems that rely on the Missouri River.
Keystone XL would cross other small waterways throughout western and southern South Dakota. It would cross several major highways that are essential to east-west traffic, such as S.D. 34, U.S. 14, U.S. 18, U.S. 212, U.S. 85 and Interstate 90.
The governor's proposed law would allow him to designate any of these places as public safety zones. The legislation already is stirring hard feelings that could last generations. A return to ugly times waits just ahead.