SOURCE: Center for Media and Democracy

DATE: September 16, 2019

SNIP: Lawmakers in Wisconsin introduced a bill on September 5 designed to chill protests around oil and gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure in the state by imposing harsh criminal penalties for trespassing on or damaging the property of a broad range of “energy providers.”

Senate Bill 386 echoes similar “critical infrastructure protection” model bills pushed out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Council of State Governments over the last two years to prevent future protests like the one against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The bill would expand a current law passed in 2015 that made it a felony to trespass on or damage property owned, operated, or leased by an electrical or gas company. Under the new bill, water, oil, petroleum, and renewable fuel companies’ properties will be covered.

Indeed, SB 386 goes even further than ALEC’s bill by including all property held by the oil and gas industry in the state instead of a finite list of “critical infrastructure.”

As a result, protesters — and anyone helping to organize or fund them — could find themselves facing jail time even for protests at an energy or water company’s corporate headquarters.

If the penalty under current law remains, those found guilty would receive up to six years in prison, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both.

“The broad sweep of the bill would criminalize not only protests that take place near a pipeline, but protests on almost any property that is considered part of an oil or gas production or transportation ‘system.’ The potential prison sentences involved are bound to chill protected First Amendment conduct,” said Elly Page, legal advisor at the International Center for Nonprofit Law.