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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

New Montana Law Sets Criminal Penalties For Infrastructure Protestors

Nate Hegyi
Mountain West News Bureau

A new Montana law sets criminal penalties for protestors who damage or trespass on critical infrastructure like pipelines. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill Friday.

Montana joins other states in regulating pipeline protests following demonstrations over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The law creates a scale of penalties for vandalizing buildings, jumping fences and intruding on infrastructure sites ranging from pipelines to cable television lines.

Republican Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby sponsored the policy, which he says is not aimed at peaceful protest.

“It sets forth enhanced fines and jail times for those who choose to become rioters rather than peaceful protestors,” Gunderson says.

More than 30 states have passed similar laws since clashes between Dakota Access Pipeline protestors and law enforcement drew national attention in 2015 and 2016.

Opponents to the law say it targets minorities, specifically tribal members protesting pipelines they say pass through sacred sites, tribal lands and near water sources.

Northern Cheyenne tribal member Adriane Jawort with Montana Native Vote says the prison time and fines could discourage peaceful protestors from demonstrating.

“If you target specific types of protests with such intense penalties, like imagine if this targeted second amendment protests, this is the definition of chilling effect,” Jawort says.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Fort Belknap Indian Community and Fort Peck Tribes also objected to the legislation.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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