Activists are blasting a new North Dakota bill that would exempt a driver from liability if they unintentionally run over a Dakota Access Pipeline protester blocking traffic on a public road or highway.
North Dakota state Rep. Keith Kempenich, a Republican, said the bill, which is in response to the anti-DAPL protests around the controversial pipeline construction site, was needed to prevent protesters from blocking roadways and to protect drivers who accidentally hit activists.
“It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian,” he told reporters Friday. “[Roads] not there for the protesters. They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger.”
Kempenich’s legislation protects drivers who hit protesters on the roadways from being “liable for any damages,” especially those who are startled and confused by protesters and press the accelerator instead of the brakes.
“A driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway is not guilty of an offense,” the bill reads.
No committee hearing has yet been set for the bill.
Activists associated with the months-long movement to stymie the now-rejected multi-billion dollar project believe the bill “criminalizes the protests” and puts people’s lives in danger.
“It’s shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their right to protest in a public space,” Tara Houska, an American Indian environmental activist who has resided at the camp since August, told reporters in response to Kempenich’s bill.
The rejected easement would have allowed DAPL to continue under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, where the Standing Rock Sioux tribe tribe and activists have gathered to protest a pipeline they think risks poisoning the tribe’s water supply.
Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II said he was surprised the legislation would propose the bill without first consulting the tribe.
“The state claims they want to work closely with the tribe on repairing our relationship with them,” Archambault told reporters Friday. “Clearly that is not happening when legislation that impacts us is being drafted without consultation, consent or even basic communication.”
Law enforcement officials have arrested more than 550 people so far since summer after violent confrontations with Standing Rock members and various out-of-state activists.
Agitators set nine vehicles ablaze during October protests, and destroyed construction equipment, leaving debris and burned out vehicles strewn across a bridge, which resulted in the closure of one of the state’s main highways.
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