A GOP lawmaker in North Dakota last week introduced a bill that would exempt drivers from liability for unintentionally hitting pedestrians who are obstructing traffic on public roads. According to the Bismarck Tribune, this includes cases where the pedestrian is injured or killed.
Rep. Keith Kempenich acknowledged House Bill 1203 is a response to methods used by Dakota Access Pipeline protesters, who successfully blocked construction of the pipeline under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation through a combination of obstructive tactics.
The lawmaker said his mother-in-law personally came across groups of protesters near roadways during the 2016 protests, insisting on one occasion someone jumped in front of her vehicle while waving a sign. Kempenich said the bill’s purpose is to protect the driver who “[punches] the accelerator rather than the brakes.”
Kempenich told the Tribune the roadways “are not there for the protestors.”
North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson, a Republican, agreed that lawmakers should look into law enforcement capabilities with regards to protests, but warned about “[violating] the right to peaceful protest.”
Pipeline protestors clashed with police and private security firms throughout 2016, culminating in chaotic and sometimes violent confrontations involving tear gas, dog attacks and water cannons. In November, an armed man in a white pick-up trunk drove through protestors, sending one woman to the hospital. DAPL’s parent company Energy Transfer Partners insisted the man had no connection with the pipeline project.
In Dec. 2016, following months of protests, the Obama Administration announced the U.S. Army Corps would not provide an easement to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe, effectively halting construction of the pipeline. The decision came after thousands of veterans converged on Standing Rock to protect and support protesters in the wake of escalating violence by law enforcement.
Despite the announcement, Energy Transfer Partners vowed to continue pushing the pipeline, insisting they “fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe.”
North Dakota’s Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, who supports the pipeline, said Friday he expects the state will complete the pipeline under President-elect Donald Trump.
“I would expect that [Energy Transfer Partners] will get its easement and it will go through,” Burgum told Reuters.