Mississippi will be the 13th state to criminalize peaceful pipeline protests - Front Page Live

Mississippi will be the 13th state to criminalize peaceful pipeline protests

  • 06/18/2020 9:22 am ET Nathan Kauffman
Mississippi will be the 13th state to criminalize peaceful pipeline protests

Several protesters were arrested on Burnaby Mountain Park on Nov 20, 2014 during protests against Kinder Morgan. Mark Klotz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In the midst of protests against a “deadly, racist policing system” and a global pandemic, Mississippi is likely to become the 13th state to criminalize fossil fuel infrastructure protests.

Beginning in July, pipeline protesters in the Magnolia State could risk being slapped with “impeding critical infrastructure” charges. Individuals would face a misdemeanor, six months in prison, and a $1,000 fine if they knowingly trespass on pipeline sites. Anyone who causes losses or damages of more than $1,000 could face felony charges, seven years in prison, and fines of up to $10,000. The House Bill 1243 cleared state Legislature in Mississippi earlier this week.

Penalties do not stop with the perpetrators of trespassing. According to the bill, organizations that support the activity of knowingly trespassing pipeline sites also are at risk.

An organization that aids, abets, solicits, compensates, hires, conspires with, commands or procures a person to commit the crime of impeding critical infrastructure is subject to a fine not to exceed One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000.00), provided that the organization acted with the intent that the crime of impeding critical infrastructure be completed.  A critical infrastructure facility may maintain a civil action against an organization for damages suffered as a consequence of a violation of this subsection, including damages for lost profits, whether or not any fine is imposed pursuant to this subsection.

In March, just before the coronavirus lockdowns began, legislation for the bill passed in Mississippi’s House of Representatives 67-to-47. On Monday, the state Senate voted 43-to-9 to approve it.

“Rather than protecting the life and liberty of Black people, or the needs of people who have lost work, politicians are helping fossil fuel interests subvert the fundamental right to protest,” Connor Gibson, Greenpeace senior researcher who tracks the anti-protest bills, told HuffPost.

HuffPost reached out to Gov. Tate Reeves (R) for comment and did not hear back. However, he is expected to sign the bill into law.

Similar bills have been popping up throughout the U.S. ever since the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016 which lasted several months.

The Trump administration first expedited the pipeline project’s completion. The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) then began searching for the type of bill which would fast track penalties and appease future protests.

Big oil asks. Big oil receives.

ALEC promoted the bills while Big Oil propped up the influence to ensure they pass. This happened here in Mississippi.

Lobbyist Joseph K. Sims has been advocating for this bill since at least 2019. An email obtained by Documented, a watchdog group, shows that Sims has had an influence on the critical infrastructure bill in 2019 and in 2020. He’s shown having talks with Bobby Morgan, the former senior advisor to the Governor of Mississipi.

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Four months ago on Feb 12, Sims took four Republican state lawmakers out to eat at a high-end steakhouse, lobbying disclosures published by Greenpeace’s Gibson prove, according to HuffPost. The lawmakers include Reps. Becky Currie, Jansen Owen, Hank Zuber, and Rob Roberson. Three of them — Owen, Roberson, and Zuber — serve on the House committee. Just five days after their meal, the latest version of the bill was introduced to the House committee. Less than a month later, these three voted to advance it out of the House committee shortly after. Joined by Currie, all four supported the final passage.

Critical infrastructure bills of the sort are popping up in Canada as well. Alberta Liberal Party leader, David Khan, called Alberta’s similar legislation “draconian” and “authoritarian,” and said it “criminalizes peaceful public protests,” according to Vice.

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