Legislators vote to pass bill that will punish association, stifle protected speech

March 25, 2019 4:00 pm

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ACLU of North Dakota
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Today, the House passed Senate Bill 2044, legislation that will punish association, violate freedom of assembly and almost certainly stifle protected speech. The bill now heads to Gov. Doug Burgum’s to be signed into law.

The ACLU of North Dakota opposed Senate Bill 2044. The bill will increase the legal penalties for tampering with or damaging a critical infrastructure facility or public service and will criminalize activity far beyond the intentional causing of property damage, extending penalties to activity such as “interfering with” or “inhibiting” the operations of critical infrastructure.

“Existing law already prohibits trespass and malicious destruction of property and conspiracies to commit the same,” said Heather Smith, executive director of the ACLU of North Dakota. “Given that, this bill’s focus on critical infrastructure facilities belies its neutral purpose – as do its excessive fines. Additionally, Senate Bill 2044 will punish organizations found to be a conspirator with those individuals found to be in violation of the new prohibitions. Making an organization criminally liable for all damage would impermissibly burden the rights of political association that are protected by the First Amendment – the literal embodiment of guilt by association.”

Senate Bill 2044 – like similar legislation introduced in 2019 in eight states including Oklahoma, Idaho, Wyoming, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Pennsylvania – builds on a trend of anti-protest legislation that aims to chill protesters from using precisely those tactics that have proven most successful for getting their voices heard.

During the legislation’s committee hearings, the ACLU of North Dakota brought up several constitutional issues with the bill but these concerns were not remedied in the amendments.

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