PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota legislative panel voted Wednesday to endorse bills proposed by Gov. Kristi Noem aimed at preparing for potential protests over the Keystone XL oil pipeline despite opposition from tribal representatives who said they weren’t consulted about the contentious legislation.
The Republican governor’s bills would require pipeline companies to chip in on protest-related expenses and create a way to pursue money from those who fund destructive demonstrations. They were introduced late in the session, timing critics panned.
Faith Spotted Eagle, of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, said the measures are an attempt to “legislate by ambush.” Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Lester Thompson said voices shouldn’t be squashed about environmental concerns that affect resources people depend on to live.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe supports the constitutional rights of tribal members and the public to peacefully assemble and engage in free speech on issues of great importance, lobbyist Remi Bald Eagle said, adding the tribe does not support riots.
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“Together these bills send the message that the state of South Dakota is more interested in getting paid to suppress its citizens’ rights than it is paying attention to the rights of its citizens,” Bald Eagle said.
The Joint Committee on Appropriations voted Wednesday to send the bills to the Senate floor. Governor’s office lobbyist Matt McCaulley said the legislative package would spread the risk and expense of extraordinary pipeline-related law enforcement costs among the state, counties, federal government, pipeline companies and rioters.
Noem’s bills come after opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline staged large protests that resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016. The state spent tens of millions of dollars policing the protests.
Noem said earlier this week that officials will make sure there’s a source of funding so local governments aren’t bankrupted during construction and that the state can aggressively pursue people who choose to fund violent protests. The governor said she’s proposing a new framework for oil pipeline construction .
One bill would tap a pipeline developer, among other sources, to fund extraordinary expenses that arise from pipeline protests. Approved claims from the state, cities or counties would be billed to the pipeline developer, which could contest the claims. The legislation establishes the pipeline engagement activity coordination expenses fund, or PEACE fund.
The other bill would create an avenue for the state to seek money from people who engage in “riot boosting,” or encouraging violent protests. People who solicit or pay someone to break the law or be arrested would be subject to paying three times the amount that would compensate for the detriment caused.
Money collected would be used to pay for riot damage claims or could be transferred into the PEACE fund.
Bald Eagle said the Cheyenne River Sioux are deeply worried that it will unfairly impose civil penalties on tribal members. The tribes weren’t consulted with in “any way or form” about legislation, Bald Eagle said.
He said the measure requiring pipeline developers to help fund extraordinary protest costs would allow the state to launder money given by corporations for the purpose of denying residents the right to peaceable assembly without persecution.
“It turns our law enforcement agencies into mercenaries,” he said.
In urging committee members to pass the legislation targeting “riot boosting,” Republican Rep. Chris Karr said many rioters are funded by out-of-state money with the goal of shutting down oil pipelines, echoing similar statements from Noem at a Monday press conference.
“Typically they align themselves and term themselves as environmentalists, but not necessarily how I would define an environmentalist,” Noem said. “I’d say the most typical national offender that we see funding these types of activities would be George Soros.”
But Laura Silber, a spokeswoman for the liberal billionaire philanthropist’s Open Society Foundations, told South Dakota Public Broadcasting that Soros opposes violence. It’s odd the governor is trying to tarnish a surge in public activism, Silber said.
“To suggest that somebody is paying for these people to turnout and protest and do someone’s bidding that’s paid for by Mr. Soros or anyone else, it does a grave disservice to these people who are standing up and making their voices heard,” Silber said.
South Dakota officials have already changed state law in anticipation of Keystone XL protests. In 2017, they made it a Class 1 misdemeanor for someone to stand in the highway to stop traffic or to trespass in a posted emergency area.
Noem’s office said her bills arose from discussions with lawmakers, authorities, stakeholders and pipeline developer TransCanada. The 1,184-mile (1,900 kilometer) pipeline is intended to ship up to 830,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with lines to carry oil to Gulf Coast refineries.
A federal judge in Montana in February largely kept in place an injunction that blocks TransCanada from performing preliminary work on the stalled pipeline.