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Legislators take action on ND protest bills ahead of evacuation deadline

BISMARCK — As the deadline to evacuate the main Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp approached, North Dakota lawmakers took action on protest-related legislation Wednesday, Feb. 22.

The North Dakota Senate passed a bill just after 10 a.m. Wednesday that allows the attorney general to "appoint ad hoc special agents" who are "law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions appointed for a specific law enforcement purpose" who don't become employees of the attorney general's office. The bill is an emergency measure, but it's unclear when Gov. Doug Burgum would take action on it.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he already has the authority to deputize agents from certain federal agencies, but the Senate bill would expand that to agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as the Department of Homeland Security. He said it's an additional tool that could be used if more federal help arrives for the pipeline protests.

Deputizing an agent means they're allowed to enforce state laws, Stenehjem said.

"There are fires being started down south right now and there's some things going on that may cause some escalation," said Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "If there was ever a good time for an emergency clause, I think this is it."

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said it was unlikely that Burgum would take action on that bill or three other bills related to protests Wednesday. Those other bills prohibit wearing a mask to conceal your identity while committing a crime, increase penalties for riot offenses, and give law enforcement the option of issuing a noncriminal citation and a $250 fine for some trespassing offenses.

The House passed a resolution Wednesday that "extends appreciation" to President Donald Trump for expediting the easement approval required for completing the pipeline. The resolution also asks the federal government to reimburse the state for all expenses incurred from the protests.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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