Running Over Protesters in North Dakota Could Soon be Legal

By Lawrence Synder, The Goldwater · 01-17-2017
Photo credit: Flickr / Fibonacci Blue

Conservative lawmakers in North Dakota have introduced a legislation that would exempt motorists from criminal charges if they accidentally run over a protester occupying a public road or highway. The bill was proposed following the series of protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline last year.

House Bill Number 1203 is scheduled to be discussed by the House Transportation Committee of North Dakota on Friday. According to co-author Representative Keith Kempenich of Bowman, the main purpose of the bill is to uphold traffic safety by ensuring that protesters are barred from obstructing roads.

If passed, then the bill would be able to protect motorists from liabilities if they happen to hit protesters with their vehicles.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, 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,” the authors of the bill stated.

Although the representatives did not directly state their reason for creating bill, it was most likely drafted in responses to the rallies held by protesters who were against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which began in early 2016.

The movement escalated at around October when some of the protesters started illegal roadblocks at county roads, state highways and bridges in an attempt to restrict access to the areas affected by the construction of the pipeline. These roadblocks were largely viewed by law enforcers as a public safety issue.

Tara Houska, an indigenous water protector who participated in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, called House Bill Number 1203 a violation of the First Amendment Rights as it aims to prevent the public from protesting.

However, as noted by Kempenich, the bill is only focused on changing the law’s perspective on liabilities regarding the violation of traffic safety rules.

“[The roads are] not there for the protesters,” he said according to Bismarck Tribune. “They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger. It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian.”

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