An important piece of legislation has moved through the legislature with little fanfare, but will have a welcome, quieting effect on the state. Referred to as the “critical infrastructure” bill, this legislation places clear limits on protests involving the damage to property.

It should go without saying that the destruction of property is not protected as free speech, but in our society today this bill clarifies the boundaries of lawful protest and will help law enforcement protect public and private property.

The sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, stated in her testimony: “In 2016, two out-of-state actors engaged in trespassing and damage upon an oil pipeline pump station in Pembina County, a county I represent. Although they were caught and prosecuted, it became a serious concern of law enforcement and other parties that our laws needed stronger deterrent and clarification.”

The incident in Pembina County and the protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline are fresh in our minds and we can expect more and more protests over pipelines, transmission lines, public utilities and private projects. Damage to critical infrastructure is justified in the minds of radical protesters because it's done to avoid greater damage caused by global warming, global cooling, climate change or whatever they call it at the time.

The individuals convicted for the damage to the oil pipeline in Pembina County attempted to use this “necessity” defense, but the judge did not allow it. But, with politicians and others turning up the heat on the climate change bandwagon, we can expect more protests and more property damage based on the necessity of avoiding even greater harm in the future.

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But, with this important statute, in North Dakota when a protest goes beyond clear boundaries and leads to damage to property, the individuals responsible will face consequences. Regardless of how passionate you are about an issue, the Constitution does not give you the right to damage or destroy someone else’s property.

Each of us relies on public and private infrastructure as we go about our daily lives. Infrastructure necessary for the water supply to flow safely to our homes and businesses, power to cool and heat our homes and businesses, communication lines for personal, business and emergency use, and transportation of goods and for personal use. Protecting that infrastructure is a critical and justified role for government.

Myrdal shared several examples of the importance of protecting critical infrastructure in her testimony in support of the legislation:

  • Stopping the flow of a pipeline can cause pressure to build putting thousands at risk of harm from an explosion.
  • A hospital losing electricity to run incubators for newborn babies or a surgeon in middle of electrical a procedure.
  • Water supply that depends on power to serve us
  • Damage to the grid can be deadly, especially in North Dakota during the winter.
  • Telecommunications that support our law enforcement or the population at large, as in 911.
  • Environmental concerns. Damage to energy infrastructure could potentially damage the environment for decades.

Well said, and an important reminder to all that your right to swing your arm stops at the next person’s nose. We need to learn to be civil again. Agree or disagree, we need to use proper channels of communication, follow the law. Actions that damage property and put others at risk are never justified as protected speech.