In wake of environmental protests, legislation aims to protect critical infrastructure – 2017

Oklahoma Legislature – House Bill 1123

Oklahoma City, OK

“An Act relating to crimes and punishments; making certain acts unlawful; providing penalties; defining term; providing for codification; and declaring an emergency,” was passed by both chambers of the Oklahoma State Legislature and signed into law by the Governor in May 2017. This law aims to protect “critical infrastructure” from protesters.

Key Figures

Representative Scott Biggs, a Republican, introduced this legislation in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Biggs received $13,751 in political donations from the oil and gas industry between January 2015 and March 2017, according to KFOR. He represents Oklahoma’s panhandle.

State Senator Bryce Marlatt, a Republican, introduced the legislation in the Oklahoma Senate. He represents District 27, also in the panhandle and extending into the northeast of the state. Marlatt currently works for Power Rig, an oil and gas drilling contractor, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, signed the legislation into law.

Further Details

House Bill 1123 imposes intense repercussions on individuals and organizations participating in protests that take place on or damage infrastructure. The bill “specifies penalties of up to $100,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for individuals involved in actions against ‘critical infrastructure,’” the Tulsa World reports. Additionally, the Bill penalizes organizations “found to be a conspirator” with individuals trespassing on critical infrastructure facilities. These organizations could face fines of up to $1 million, according to the Tulsa World.

The bill defines 17 types of critical infrastructure, including “railroad tracks,” “a petroleum or alumina refinery,” and “a natural gas compressor station.” Protests in North Dakota concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline prompted Representative Biggs to author the legislation. He told fellow legislators that his bill was aimed at protecting infrastructure, not hindering the rights of peaceful protesters, reports KFOR. “Across the country, we have seen time and time again these protests have turned violent, these protests have disrupted the infrastructures in those other states,” he asserted on the House floor, according to the Oklahoma Gazette. He continued, “This is a preventative measure … to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”

House Bill 1123 drew intense criticism from groups concerned about its implications for First Amendment rights. Oklahoma’s chapter of the Sierra Club lobbied against the legislation. The chapter’s director, Johnson Bridgwater, told the Oklahoma Gazette that the bill “violates the fundamental principals [sic] that America was founded on.” Bridgwater believes that this law could “could create overlap between federal and state laws, as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is responsible for protecting the nation’s power grid and other critical infrastructures,” according to the Oklahoma Gazette.

Doug Parr, city attorney for Oklahoma City, believes that the legislation was passed “to intimidate and threaten an organization that might organize a nonviolent, non-disruptive political protest,” KFOR reports. Oklahoma’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has also criticized the law for its detrimental impact on First Amendment freedoms. Ryan Kiesel, the chapter’s executive director, told the Oklahoma Gazette that the First Amendment “protects the rights of Oklahomans and Americans to engage in speech and activity, knowing that if they engage in civil disobedience, that the penalties they face should not be disproportionate. If we chill and keep people home, away from the cameras and away from the public they are trying to wake up on any number of issues, we are doing a real disservice to our democracy.” Representatives from the Ponca Tribe told StateImpact that they believe this legislation was introduced as “a knee-jerk reaction to what went on in Standing Rock.” Standing Rock is a Native American reservation in North Dakota that hosted a months-long protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

House Bill 1123 was introduced in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives in February 2017, and was approved by that chamber on a vote of 78-25 in March, and in April by the Oklahoma State Senate on a vote of 38-6.


Governor Signed Legislation into Law

Governor Mary Fallin signed the legislation into law on May 3, 2017, without comment, rendering the law effective immediately.

External References:

HB 1123

Groups protest anti-protest bill, KFOR

Anti-protest bills could curb freedom of speech or provide protection in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Gazette

Oklahoma Bill to Protect ‘Critical Infrastructure’ Could Curb Public Protest, Critics Say, StateImpact

Bill stemming from pipeline protests passes Oklahoma House committee, Tulsa World

Report shows how much Oklahoma legislators received from the oil and gas industry, KFOR

Will Haskell ‘18

August 22, 2017