Governor Noem’s Legislation A Threat To Free Speech?

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Governor Kristi Noem is being heavily criticized for two pieces of legislation she’s proposed surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline.

She says the bills would create funds to protect the state should riots break out during anticipated protests.

But the American Civil Liberties Union says the bills could be a threat to freedom of speech and the right to protest. 

Two years ago, thousands of people traveled to protest camps just outside the Standing Rock Indian reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

They were protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline, but at times, incidents of violence erupted between law enforcement and protestors. 

Now South Dakota Governor Noem is proposing legislation that would help pay for any costs incurred by law enforcement, legal costs and any other damages if there are riots this time around. 

“We live in a new world, a new world where protests often develop into riots. They slow and they stop construction, and we support free speech and freedom of assembly in South Dakota, but we do not support riots,” Noem said. 

But the ACLU says not so fast. 

“This bill and its terms go far beyond what the governor and the proponents are claiming it would do,” policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota Libby Skarin said. 

Skarin of the ACLU says some of the language in the bills would allow the government to go after anyone who donates or contributes to the protest if violence breaks out.  She calls that a scare tactic. 

“That’s exactly what we are concerned about because when you make it clear that the state is gong to financially come after someone for protesting even if they don’t cause any violence, what you are doing is chilling free speech.  You are sending a message that if you are involved in this, if you contribute to this protest or even if you’re at the protest and someone else causes a violent act or starts a riot, you’re going to be liable and the natural effect of that is, it’s going to make people think twice about whether they should speak up on these issues they care about,” Skarin said. 

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is also denouncing Noem’s legislation.  You can read the tribal chairman’s statement below.

The two bills are scheduled for a hearing Wednesday morning in front of the Joint Appropriations Committee.   

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