TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill signed into law by Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly will make it a misdemeanor to trespass near oil and gas pipelines.
The bill Kelly signed last week gained bipartisan support in the state Senate, but drew criticism from some House Democrats, including two Native American legislators who said the bill targets Native American protestors like those who opposed the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the subject of months of sometimes-violent protests in 2016 and 2017.
The new law goes into effect on July 1. The legislation makes it a misdemeanor to trespass near oil and gas, rubber manufacturing and wastewater treatment facilities. It would also make it a felony to trespass with the intent to damage them. It is already a felony in Kansas to damage oil and gas pipelines.
In addition to pipelines, the bill also defines railroad tracks as a critical infrastructure and makes it a felony to trespass to obstruct them. First time offenders found guilty could face up to two years of probation.
The bill says lawmakers intend to protect the right to peaceably assemble. Proponents say that damaging the facilities outlined in the bill could harm Kansans.
“Governor Kelly signed this bill because it will enforce the law by protecting critical infrastructure facilities – such as water treatment plants or gas processing plants – while still protecting Kansans’ right to peacefully protest,” said Kelly spokesperson Lauren Fitzgerald in a statement.
The bill was introduced at the request of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association, which cites an incident in Florida, where a hacker in February gained entry to the system controlling a water treatment plant and tried to taint the water supply with sodium hydroxide, a caustic chemical.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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