South Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Bill that Would Thwart Free Speech and the Right to Protest

March 3, 2020 11:00 pm

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ACLU of South Dakota
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Tonight, after more than 90 minutes of testimony from 13 opponents, lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance House Bill 1117, an unnecessary effort to legislate peaceful protest in South Dakota.

The ACLU of South Dakota opposes HB 1117 and is concerned that that this legislation will be applied in a manner that violates the Constitution.

“No one should have to fear the government coming after them for exercising their First Amendment rights. But House Bill 1117 would do just that,” said Candi Brings Plenty, indigenous justice organizer for the ACLU of South Dakota. “House Bill 1117 creates a state of fear that pits activists and organizers exercising their First Amendment rights against government officials and law enforcement and, in fact, seems specifically designed to intimidate and dissuade people from protesting at all. The threat of having to prove yourself in court is exactly what chilling speech and chipping away at our First Amendment rights looks like.”

It’s irrefutable that House Bill 1117, like the 2019 “Riot Boosting Act” it replaces, was sparked by a desire to suppress protests around the Keystone XL pipeline. While the bill’s supporters say they’re concerned only about riots, the context is clear: this legislation is a direct reaction to some of the most effective protests in modern American history, including the work done by water protectors challenging the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.

Instead of passing this House Bill 1117, lawmakers should focus on ensuring the civil rights of people planning to peacefully protest the Keystone XL Pipeline are protected. The governor and our elected officials should consult with the people who will bear the heaviest burden of any laws regarding protest. The voices of the people must be heard in a meaningful way, and taking that opportunity away from South Dakotans is a subversion of our entire democratic process.

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