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Local & Regional

"Critical Infrastructure" Bill Seen as Deterrent for Protests Sent to Oklahoma Senate

Pipeline.jpg

Oklahoma state representatives easily passed a bill criticized as a way to deter protests similar to those over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

House Bill 1123 makes it a felony to trespass at what’s deemed "critical infrastructure" with the intent of vandalism or interrupting operations, punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and a year in prison. It also makes it a felony to actually cause damage, punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.

Refineries, various utility facilities, oil and gas pipelines, dams, and cell phone towers are among the things defined as critical infrastructure.

Because of the new felonies, Rep. Todd Russ was one of a few Republicans to vote no.

"The first session I was here, they would not allow us to file a bill with a felony, because we were trying to look at addressing the problems we've got in the state of Oklahoma with so many punitive laws that we can't hardly incarcerate them fast enough," Russ said.

HB1123 also calls for up to a $1 million fine on organizations judged to be conspirators in those crimes, a provision Rep. Bobby Cleveland asked bill sponsor Scott Biggs about.

"People like George Soros, he's paying protesters to protest. Is this going to try and eliminate that?" Cleveland said.

"Well, I don't think you could ever eliminate somebody like that doing whatever they would want to do, but the goal is to make sure that the critical infrastructure here in Oklahoma is protected," Biggs said.

Rep. Eric Proctor said the provision about conspiring organizations is too vague.

"If my Sunday school class at First Baptist Tulsa decides that we want to send aid to folks that are making a protest, as several of us have done in the past, under this language, we would be conspirators because of something we're acting on because of our faith," Proctor said.

Proctor said the same concern applies for tribal governments.

The bill passed 70–24 and now goes to the Senate.