BISMARCK — Lawmakers questioned the specifics Wednesday of a bill that would allow officers to fine people $5,000 for refusing to leave an environmentally sensitive area.
Drafted in response to Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the bill’s supporters cited the need for public safety during demonstrations that have cost state taxpayers millions of dollars for law enforcement to contain.
The lone opponent’s testimony centered on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 2246, saying it doesn’t provide for the ability to contest such a fine in court.
“It’s a due process violation,” Jackson Lofgren, president of the North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
If approved, the bill would allow officers to order people to leave private or public property as well as areas deemed dangerous due to being environmentally sensitive. An area that’s deemed environmentally sensitive includes an area that might be prone to flooding, a blizzard or other severe weather hazard.
Prime bill sponsor Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, said the exact amount of the fine is negotiable since it’s higher than any other misdemeanor in state statute.
Dever said it wasn’t a specific statement on the protests in southern Morton County but would apply to them effective March 1.
“This is very serious business,” Dever said of the public safety risk of flooding this spring.
Sen. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, asked Dever about unintended consequences. She referred to 2011 flooding in south Bismarck, where, after having to evacuate her home, she and her husband returned daily to put chemicals in the home to prevent mold.
Dever said SB2246 applies to things such as mandatory evacuations in which law enforcement would be put in danger responding to someone in need of rescue. He told Larson his guess was that, in her case, she wasn’t fighting law enforcement going into a flood zone.
The area where a majority of protesters against the $3.8 billion pipeline are camping, near the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation border, is located on federal land prone to flooding. National Weather Service projections for this spring indicate a possibility of flooding in the area.
Bismarck resident Gaylynn Becker, who’s testified in favor of several recent bills that are in response to protest activities, said SB2246 was needed in order to make protesters consider their actions.
“I am beyond being appalled,” said Becker of protest activities aimed at making “North Dakotans look stupid” by some.
Becker, who questioned whether demonstrations were in any way peaceful, said the costly response by law enforcement is pulling away funds from important programs in the state during a time of budget constraints.
Efforts are being made to clear away structures, belongings and waste left at the camp area in advance of spring. A specific count of how many protesters remain is unknown but is estimated to be a few hundred. Meanwhile, a call for action from the Sacred Stone Camp went out Tuesday, according to LaDonna Bravebull Allard, director of the camp who indicated that more than 41 #NoDAPL actions across the globe were planned over the next week.
Lofgren expressed concern how such a fine would be applied to a homeless person being told to leave a shopping mall on a cold winter day or to college kids being told to leave a nuisance party and not leaving quick enough to law enforcement’s liking.
“It’s very vague. They can give you a ticket for a $5,000 fine,” Lofgren said.
No action was taken Wednesday on SB2246.