North Dakota Bill Aims To Let Motorists Run Over Protesters Willy Nilly

Jason Reynolds

In response to numerous complaints by North Dakota citizens about protesters blocking traffic, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow motorists to run them over without consequence.

Yes, you read that correctly. North Dakota lawmakers have introduced a bill into the Republican-controlled state legislature that would absolve any motorist of any legal or financial repercussions, should they happen to “accidentally” run over someone protesting in the road.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Keith Kempenich, the burden of proof would shift from the driver to the pedestrian. He also admitted that the bill comes in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that are occurring in the state.

Kempenich claims that the bill is needed because groups of protesters often gather too close to roadways and can cause problems as motorists attempt to transit the area. He says that he has reports and eye witnesses of protesters jumping out in front of motorists.

“They’re [the roads] not there for the protesters. They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger.”

Watch out if you're a protester along a roadway; HB12003 in North Dakota is making you a legitimate target
Situations are often dire at the DAPL Protests. [Image by David Goldman/AP Images]

When asked about situations where there are no protests involved, Kempenich admitted that there might be an issue. But he wants to lessen the burden on motorists who, when faced with a ravening pack of sign waving lunatics, might accidentally “punch the accelerator rather than the brakes.”

This isn’t the first instance of legislation introduced in North Dakota in direct response to protests over the DAPL pipeline. The protests have ended up costing the state over $22 million and created almost 600 arrests in the area since the protests began in August, leading to significant pressure on lawmakers to do something about the protests and by large, the protestors.

What are the DAPL Protests About?

The protests are over a $3.8 billion-dollar pipeline that was scheduled to transport oil from the oil fields in North Dakota to a storage location in Patoka, Illinois. The reasons for the protests are primarily two-fold.

First, there are the environmental safety concerns that the pipeline could contaminate the main source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. While some will dismiss this as a far-fetched fear, the pipeline was already diverted from a route near the capital city of Bismark. The reason for the move? Citizens of Bismark feared that a pipeline spill would contaminate the municipal water supply.

Watch out if you're a protester along a roadway; HB12003 in North Dakota is making you a legitimate target
Military veterans huddle together to hold a United States flag during the DAPL protests. [Image by David Goldman/AP Images]

The second reason for the protests is the cultural intrusion that the pipeline represents. Land that has served as both burial locations and as holy sites have been marked for demolition to make way for the pipeline. According to representatives from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, there has been significant destruction of sacred sites already.

What Other Legislation?

A bill that would criminalize the use of masks by adults anywhere is already on the table. This is a variation of a previous law that criminalized the wearing of the signature Ku Klux Klan white hood.

Another bill will allow the North Dakota Attorney General to sue the federal government to defray the costs of dealing with the protests.

A dissenting opinion to the so-called “protest laws” was voiced by Marvin Nelson, who said, Knee-jerk legislation often is poor legislation.”

The protests may soon be moot, however. With the inauguration of President Trump, the nomination of Senator John Hoeven as the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is pretty much a shoe in. And as Senator Hoeven is an avid supporter of both the oil industry and the DAPL project, it is likely that permission will be given by the new administration. Those same sentiments were echoed by newly elected North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum who believes that the pipeline will inevitably be built when Trump takes office.

The bill, House Bill 1203, is due to be heard by the North Dakota House Transportation Committee on Friday, January 20, 2017.

[Featured Image by David Goldman/AP Images]