A dangerous bill intended to chill peaceful protest is headed to the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives tomorrow.
The Pennsylvania Legislature is considering an outrageous bill that could be used to criminalize protest at an array of locations including gas pipelines, which the state calls “critical infrastructure.”
Senate Bill 652 is designed to intimidate potential protesters by enhancing penalties for trespass at pipelines, making such trespass a 2nd degree felony on par with sexual assault or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. If passed, this bill would mean protesters engaged in nonviolent action could be charged with a felony–even though they have no intention of causing harm. A repeat offense constitutes a first degree felony on par with kidnapping, rape, and murder.
Trespass is already a crime under Pennsylvania law, as is vandalism and property destruction. This unnecessary bill is clearly intended to intimidate and silence protesters in order to protect corporations. The bill follows the model created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and already enacted in several states.
SB652 in its current form, makes trespass with “intent to impede or inhibit operations” a 2nd degree felony. “Intent to impede or inhibit” is not defined. These terms could be interpreted very broadly. The bill could establish that simply entering a property (nothing more!) impedes or inhibits operations and is a felony.
This bill, in its current form, makes a second offense a 1st degree felony. First degree felony charges can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines. Second degree felony conviction could carry penalties of prison sentence of up to 10 years and Maximum fine of $20,000.
Thanks to our Pennsylvania allies, Clean Air Council and Delaware Riverkeeper Network for their help with this alert