Oklahoma Outlaws Protests by “Conspirator Organizations”

Under the new law, misdemeanor convictions can result in a fine of $1,000 and up to six months in county jail for willfully trespassing on property containing critical infrastructure.

Critical infrastructure is defined to include pipelines, chemical plants, power plants, refineries, railways, national gas terminals, ports and transportation facilities.

Two new felony counts have been added as well. The first level calls for a fine of no less than $10,000 and a prison sentence up to 10 years for trespass with intent to damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment, and impede or inhibit operations.

The second felony level calls for a fine of not less than $100,000 and a prison sentence up to 10 years for successfully carrying out the actions described in the first level.

An added component of the law troubling environmental organizations is they could be found to be a “conspirator” in the prohibited activities and subject to a fine 10 times the amount for individuals. Thus, a second felony level charge for a “conspiring organization” could result in a $1 million fine.

A second bill, passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives Thursday, would permit “vicarious liability” for groups that “compensate” protesters accused of trespassing. The bill’s author reportedly called it a response to the Dakota Access pipeline protests, aimed directly at organizers fighting to stop the Diamond pipeline, a project of Valero and All American Pipeline that would transport oil from Oklahoma to Tennessee.”

Environmental organizations are concerned that its paid leaders who show up for protests could be considered as “compensated,” and their organizations liable under the proposed law.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Mark McBride, said the so-called vicarious liability provision would apply to people who give lodging to those who are later arrested for trespassing. He said the idea for the bill came from actions along the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Oklahoma Democrats voiced concern that people could be prosecuted and held liable for a “completely lawful activity.” In rebuttal, Republicans acknowledged that the law and its provisions are likely to be challenged in court.

Doug Parr has represented numerous environmental activists in Oklahoma protest cases. In an interview with The Intercept the attorney noted the liability bill’s loose wording. ‘Say they lock themselves to a piece of construction equipment, and a claim can be made that there were damages from that trespass. Does this statute create a civil action for a pipeline company to then go after a person or organization that posted bond or helped pay for a lawyer for that civil disobedience?’ “

What the new law’s opponents really fear is the stifling effect the law may have on the willingness of citizens to engage in legitimate protests or even peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

Source: The Intercept





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