Don’t Let Corporate Interests Undermine Democracy in Illinois. Take Action

Constitution in Crisis: February
February 28, 2019
Statement on Chelsea Manning’s Grand Jury Subpoena
March 4, 2019


UPDATE 4/3/2019 – The Judiciary Committee – Criminal has the bill on their agenda again, so we need more witness slips! Fill out a witness slip here.

UPDATE 3/19/2019 – One more time! The bill was not heard last week and is on the committee agenda TODAY. Witness slips from previous weeks are not tallied, so click here to submit a new witness slip today.

UPDATE 3/12/2019 – The bill was not heard in committee on March 5, but is on the agenda for today’s hearing. You can submit a new witness slip by clicking on this link. Remember to check “opponent”.

UPDATE 3/5/2019 – Defending Rights & Dissent and the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights submitted a letter the Judiciary-Crime Committee opposing the bill. It was signed by 20 national and Illinois groups. Read the letter here.

We value our vibrant democratic process too much to let it be undermined to serve corporate interests. But that’s exactly what a bill making its way through the Illinois General Assembly would do. It’s aimed directly at our right to protest against pipelines and fracking.

HB1633 would create draconian new penalties for protests at pipelines, refineries, and other sites deemed “critical infrastructure.” The bill also includes a “guilty by association” provision that would impose catastrophic fines on organizations that support these grassroots protests. Please see below for more details about the bill.

HB1633 has the corporate backing of the extractive industry and other corporate interests, and has bi-partisan support. It is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, March 5 at 4 p.m.

Let’s show that people power can overcome corporate greed, and we won’t give up our right to dissent without a fight.

Please take action against this anti-protest bill now:

Click here to Submit a witness slip as an opponent to HB1633. The process takes just a minute and is important, it allows you to “testify” against a bill without being present in Springfield. The link above will take you to the Illinois general assembly website where you’ll be able to fill out the witness slip for HB1633. Simply fill out your info and mark yourself as an OPPONENT to the bill.

The hearing for the bill is tomorrow (March 5) so please fill out your witness slip today!

Stay Loud, Stay Strong,

Sue

More about HB1633:

At best, this is an unnecessary bill that creates new draconian penalties for conduct already covered by existing criminal statutes. HB1633 undermines the promising reform efforts of many lawmakers who are trying to remedy the harm caused by overcriminalization and mass incarceration in Illinois and nationally. This bill is part of a national trend of critical infrastructure legislation, promoted by the extractive industry and corporate-backed ALEC. HB1633 will have a chilling impact on free speech.

HB 1633 is purportedly designed to protect against “critical damage” to “critical infrastructure facilities.” While this sounds serious, Illinois already has laws on the books to protect against such acts. What this bill actually does is create a broad new offense that encompasses knowingly vandalizing, defacing, or tampering with critical infrastructure, a category that includes pipelines, other oil and natural gas facilities, and military and national guard bases. Although this offense would be a Class 1 felony, punishable by fines of up to $100,000 and 15 years in prison, it does not require actual damage to property.

If passed, an act of civil disobedience that would be a minor offense if committed elsewhere could now result in a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. For example, an activist who spray painted an anti-pipeline slogan on a pipeline would be ensnared by this law.  Whatever one thinks of the underlying actions, this is a grotesquely disproportionate penalty.

Similarly, HB 1633 creates new offenses of trespass and aggravated trespass to a critical infrastructure facility, with disproportionate penalties. Currently, criminal trespass to property is punishable as a Class B or Class A misdemeanor, depending upon the nature of the offense (720 ILCS 5/21-3). HB 1633 would elevate the penalty for trespass to a critical infrastructure facility to a Class 4 felony, punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and 3 years in prison.

Aggravated trespass to a critical infrastructure facility would occur when “a person who commits a criminal trespass to a critical infrastructure facility” does so “with the intent to damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, or tamper with equipment of the facility, or impede or inhibit operations of the facility.” This would become a Class 3 felony punishable by fines of up to $10,000 and 10 years in prison. Once again, this creates a situation in which an individual engaged in peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience could face years in prison, even if no property damage took place.

Fifteen years in prison for peaceful acts that result in no property damage. Three, or even 10 years in prison for trespass. If passed, this bill would create monstrous penalties for nonviolent offenses. At a time when many people, including lawmakers, are recognizing the deleterious effects that mass incarceration has had on society and have attempted to remedy this in part by rectifying laws that have overcriminalized certain conduct or imposed unreasonable penalties, HB1633, if adopted, would be a giant step backwards. By creating a whole new class of nonviolent offenders who could serve serious prison time, it is antithetical to criminal justice reform.

This bill is also part of a larger national trend of “critical infrastructure” bills promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council that establish special protections for some private industries engaged in controversial practices that attract opposition and protest. There is no real known threat to pipelines from criminals and vandals to justify these bills. They are instead rooted in animus against disfavored social movements. Whenever states enact legislation based on animus towards particular political speech it has a chilling effect that will be felt widely.

The attempts to silence political organizing are clear from the bill’s provisions that allow for organizations to be held liable for conspiracy to commit the aforementioned offenses.Those guilty are “to be sentenced to a fine of not less than 10 times the minimum fine authorized for the offense.” The target of this provision is NGOs and civil society groups that help organize pipeline protests or support grassroots activists on the ground. The steep fines are meant to silence them and discourage them from supporting such efforts.

Read more about “Critical Infrastructure” bills in our toolkit for activists here.



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