A proposed Ohio law would make pipeline protesting a felony attached to hefty penalties. Senate Bill 250 is intended to “protect critical infrastructure facilities from mischief,” as titled. But civil rights activists and environmental advocates say it is an unconstitutional move to suppress their right to protest.
The bill seeks to “prohibit criminal mischief, criminal trespass and aggravated trespass on a critical infrastructure facility, to impose fines for organizations that are complicit in those offenses, and to impose civil liability for damage caused by trespass on a critical infrastructure facility.”
Following a hearing last Wednesday, the bill awaits committee approval before coming up for a vote by the Senate.
According to the proposed bill, criminal mischief at an oil or gas facility would go from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony. The maximum prison term for a conviction would be three years.
The language of the bill explains that citizens would be prohibited from “impeding and inhibiting” operations of infrastructure facilities including: electricity generation and transmission; oil and gas production, transportation and distribution; telecommunication; water supply; agricultural resources, production and distribution; heating; transportation systems; and security services.
“Ohio Senate Bill 250 is a dangerous assault on civil liberties and free speech. It is unnecessary, since trespass is already covered by Ohio law,” said Heather Cantino for the Buckeye Environmental Network and Athens County Fracking Action Network. “This bill creates a new level of penalties for trespass, with draconian fines and felony charges if the trespass is against so-called critical infrastructure, including corporate-owned pipelines and oil and gas wells (even if they are on someone’s own property) and Homeland Security sites, meaning that citizens supporting immigrants are also vulnerable to its penalties. The legislation is clearly meant to intimidate individuals and, even more dangerously, non-profit organizations that organize people to speak out against assaults by the oil and gas industry against our communities, climate and public health. Under the bill, organizations can be held liable for others’ actions through guilt by association, with 10 times greater penalties than penalties individuals would receive. This can only be intended to squelch environmental advocacy, so essential at this time of accelerating climate chaos.”
Ohio Senate Bill 250 was proposed by Senator Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction) in the wake of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests last year.
Even as the bill makes its way through the process, Energy News Network is reporting that it is unlikely that the bill would become law this year unless lawmakers have a will to “push it through”.