March 4, 2019

Two last-minute bills regarding the Keystone XL pipeline introduced today by Gov. Kristi Noem may be a threat to freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Noem says the legislative package, the text of which hasn’t been posted online yet, is intended to “ensure the Keystone XL pipeline and other future pipeline projects are built in a safe and efficient manner while protecting our state and counties from extraordinary law enforcement costs in the event of riots.”

The ACLU of South Dakota is concerned about this package of legislation. It is clear that Noem is taking aim at protests that could occur around the pipeline.

“The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota. “Unfortunately, government officials sometimes violate this right through means intended to thwart free public expression sometimes by casting or framing protected speech as riotous. Based on Gov. Noem’s statement, it’s clear that she’s taking aim at the protests that could occur around the Keystone XL pipeline. At best, these bills are entirely unnecessary. At worst, they are meant to chill speech.”

Additionally, introducing new legislation on the 33rd day of the legislative session is problematic, Skarin says. The last day for a bill or joint resolution to pass both houses is Thursday, March 7. If the rules are suspended to allow for Noem’s bills to proceed without a committee hearing in order to meet that deadline, the public may not have a chance for input. 

“The legislative process needs to be followed and respected,” Skarin says. “Public input is a vital part of our democracy. The voice of the people must be able to be heard in a meaningful way, and taking that opportunity away from South Dakotans is a subversion of our entire democratic process.”

Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is currently on hold.

A ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris in November 2018 found that the Trump administration failed to conduct required environmental review studies prior to granting TransCanada approval to construct the Keystone XL pipeline. Judge Morris blocked TransCanada from constructing the pipeline and, in a subsequent ruling, also prohibited the company from engaging in any activities that would advance the construction until the appropriate environment reviews could be complete.

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