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Anti-Pipeline-Protest Bills Head to SD Governor's Desk

A Lakota man locks himself to construction equipment in 2016 to protest construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (
A Lakota man locks himself to construction equipment in 2016 to protest construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (
March 18, 2019

PIERRE, S.D. — Anti-pipeline-protest legislation that opponents say could chill free speech in South Dakota is on its way to Gov. Kristi Noem for a signature. The legislation was introduced by Noem days before the session ended - while many tribal members who opposed the bills were across the country on other business.

Senate Bill 189 establishes civil penalties for "riot boosting," or contributing money to or encouraging violent pipeline protesters. Libby Skarin, policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, believes the rushed legislation goes further to stifle free speech than just pipeline protests.

"The way this bill is written, it is clear that it will be able to be used to wrap up people who are merely speaking, who are using their First Amendment rights to speak up and protest pipelines or whatever else might happen in the future,” Skarin said. “So, this is not going to be solely related to pipelines."

A second bill creates a funding source for the state to recoup any "extraordinary costs," such as the millions faced by North Dakota after hundreds were arrested during protests of the Keystone XL pipeline. South Dakota tribal chairmen say they were not consulted about the bills, despite the governor's promise to work with them in her January inaugural speech.

The bills would protect the nearly 1,200-mile long Keystone XL pipeline, a planned TransCanada project that would slice through the state and carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Skarin said representatives of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association, representing the leaders of 16 tribes in the region, also were not consulted about the legislation.

"A lot of the tribal chairmen in South Dakota were actually in Washington, D.C., as part of their official duties,” she said. “So, this bill was pushed through arguably in the one week when a lot of the leaders of the tribes could not physically be present in Pierre."

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe lobbyist Remi Bald Eagle told a legislative committee the bills send a message that South Dakota is "more interested in getting paid to suppress its citizens' rights than it is paying attention to the rights of its citizens." He added the tribe does not support riots, but rather, encourages peaceful public assembly.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD