“Hard labor” part of Louisiana bill targeting trespassing oil/gas protesters

Oklahoma did it in 2017 and now other states are considering adopting the same law targeting protesters who trespass on energy sites, whether they be oil pipelines or other operations. Some are getting tougher.

The latest is Louisiana where Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is considering whether to sign a bill sent to him late last week calling for a mandatory minimum of three years in prison “at hard labor.”

In August 2018, Louisiana became one of the first states to designate virtually all oil refineries and gas pipelines as “critical infrastructure,” threatening protesters who gather near any of its 125,000 miles of oil and gas conduits ― previously a misdemeanor ― with felony charges.

Oklahoma’s law, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017, does not include “hard labor” but it says trespassers on energy operations will face a felony and a minimum $10,000 fine if a court determines they entered property intending to damage, vandalize, deface, “impede or inhibit operations of the facility.” Should the trespasser actually succeed in “tampering” with the infrastructure, they face a $100,000 fine or 10 years of imprisonment.

Last Friday, the Louisiana state House of Representatives approved the new legislation adding penalties for trespassing during a state emergency ― like the order Louisiana is under now in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic ― by a vote of 88 to 8. It passed 31-to-0 in the state Senate on Friday according to Huffington Post.

The bill not only would require three years of “hard labor” in prison but create a maximum of 15 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines for those convicted of trespassing.

The measure would also expand the definition of critical infrastructure to include floodgates, levees and pump stations, essentially applying the law across much of the low-lying coastal state.

“We may be in states of emergency at various levels for the next two years due to COVID-19,” said Pam Spees, the senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing RISE St. James in a lawsuit challenging the existing pipeline law. “What’s happening is they’re being chilled from exercising their rights.”

In approving the new law, Louisiana would become the fourth state to enact what some consider to be draconian new restrictions on protesting fossil fuel infrastructure since the pandemic began, according to Connor Gibson, a researcher at Greenpeace who tracks critical infrastructure legislation.

In March, Kentucky, South Dakota and West Virginia quietly approved measures to increase the penalties for protesting on fossil fuel companies’ property or broadening the definition of “critical infrastructure.” Alabama earlier this month advanced its own version of the bill.

The legislation is based on proposals the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — the conservative policy shop funded by big business and right-wing billionaires — began promoting in 2017 in response to the campaign to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under a water source held sacred by Native Americans.

By last summer, the bill became law in at least six states: Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. Similar bills are pending in Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Source: Huff Post