North Dakota Bill Would Protect Drivers Who ‘Accidentally’ Run Over Protesters, Such As Those At Standing Rock

A newly-proposed North Dakota bill would protect drivers who “accidentally” run over protesters, and it is reportedly aimed directly at those people hunkered down at Standing Rock. Sponsored by Republican state representative Keith Kempenich, HB1203 would essentially let North Dakota drivers off the legal hook if they run down protesters who happen to be blocking the free flow of traffic.

Even, as the Star Tribune reports, protesters in North Dakota who may be seriously injured or even killed as a result of being “accidentally” hit by a motorist.

According to the Republican North Carolina representative, in cases where protesters are deliberately blocking traffic, fault for vehicle-pedestrian accidents should be shifted from drivers to protesters. Kempenich says that the new North Carolina bill would not apply to those who deliberately run over protesters, nor would it apply to other situations such as jaywalkers or children darting into the street.

According to the legislator, the proposed bill was drafted in the wake of the Standing Rock water protests, protests that have shut down a North Dakota roadway (Highway 1806) for weeks and even months. Protests that sprung up in response to the disputed Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs adjacent to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and which protesters claim compromises their water safety and has damaged ancient sacred sites and burial grounds.

Kempenich asserts that there would have been no need for the new North Carolina bill to ever be thought of if not for the actions of the Standing Rock protesters and that if they stay out of the road in the future, they have nothing to worry about under the proposed new law.

“If you stay off the roadway, this would never be an issue. Those motorists are going about the lawful, legal exercise of their right to drive down the road. … Those people didn’t ask to be in this.”

As Huffington Post reports, the North Dakota bill’s sponsor claims that Standing Rock protesters are deliberately setting up North Dakota locals and first responders by their behavior at the disputed protest site. Kempenich even claims that “protesters were seen jumping out in front of vehicles” in the midst of the Standing Rock clashes.

“A driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages. 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.”

While the Standing Rock protest has tapered off a bit in the midst of the harsh North Dakota winter, thousands of protesters lived at the site throughout the summer and fall, and at least hundreds still remain, devoted to protecting their water supply. In recent weeks, the Obama administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided a glimmer of hope for protesters, denying a final, vital easement in the Lake Oahe are to the companies behind the pipeline.

However, before protesters at the North Dakota site could really begin celebrating, Energy Transfer Partners LP and Sunoco Logistics responded that they have no intention of rerouting and will sue to complete the multi-billion dollar pipeline. As Obama is leaving office in just days and Donald Trump has supported the controversial pipeline, it’s possible that construction will continue as planned. And legally, too.

If construction at the North Dakota pipeline site continues, it is very unlikely that the Standing Rock protests will cease. Rather, they could very well flare back up. According to North Dakota Republican representative Keith Kempenich, continued protests leave citizens “feeling terrorized.”

“It puts people on edge. People who live out there are feeling terrorized.”

Because of the continued drama in North Dakota, the bill that would essentially decriminalize running over protesters isn’t the only new bill floating around the state that takes aim at what’s going on at Standing Rock.

Two other new bills have Standing Rock protesters directly in their crosshairs. One would make it illegal for adults to hide their faces with masks, which would lead to easier identification of protesters and/or justify the arrests of those covering their faces. The other is designed to allow North Dakota to sue the feds to recoup policing costs incurred due to the pipeline protests.

So far, the Standing Rock protests have cost North Dakota law enforcement roughly $22 million, as thousands of protesters have flocked to the disputed site and hundreds have been arrested in increasingly violent, dangerous demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It is currently unclear if any of these new North Dakota bills stand a chance of passing legislative muster, and some Democrats in the state are calling the proposed new laws “knee-jerk legislation.”

Even so, the new North Dakota bill aimed at protecting the rights of drivers who “accidentally” mow down protesters in the street is expected to be heard by the North Dakota’s House Transportation Committee on Friday.

[Featured Image by James MacPherson/AP Images]