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Opponents Speak Out Against Illinois "Anti-Protest" Bill

Activists gathered in Chicago to speak out against a bill they say intends to silence protestors of oil and gas infrastructure. (The People's Lobby)
Activists gathered in Chicago to speak out against a bill they say intends to silence protestors of oil and gas infrastructure. (The People's Lobby)
April 26, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A bill that would increase penalties for damage to critical infrastructure is making its way through the Illinois Legislature, and its opponents are not backing down. Activists from social justice, environmental and faith-based groups gathered in Chicago yesterday to denounce House Bill 1633.

Supporters claim the measure is needed to protect oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure from vandalism. Kylah Johnston – an organizer with the People's Lobby – disagrees, and thinks the bill's true intent is to use the threat of hefty fines, lengthy jail sentences and felony charges to silence protestors.

"We already have these laws in place,” says Johnston. “This is really just targeting specific, 'dirty energy' sites and being used as a scare tactic, to make it so environmental organizers and activists won't be peacefully gathering at these places and calling out 'dirty energy' for what it is."

The bill, which was passed by the House, creates a broader category of critical infrastructure to include pipelines, oil and natural gas facilities, railroads, dams, and National Guard bases. Johnston says under this bill, an act of civil disobedience that would be a minor offense if committed elsewhere could result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Supporters of HB 1633 say peaceful protests, employee picketing and vandalism are excluded.

Johnston notes the measure is part of a larger, national wave of similar "critical infrastructure" bills, aimed at establishing special protections for certain industries that attract opposition.

"They definitely want to use Illinois as an example of how they can pass these anti-protest bills across the country,” says Johnston. “We're a blue state, we have a Democratic governor, we have a super-majority, and they were somehow able to sneak this by the House."

Similar legislation has been introduced in about a dozen other states this year, including one that recently passed in the Indiana Legislature.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL