On Tuesday morning (September 25, 2018), the Environmental Resources and Energy committee of the Pennsylvania House will vote on a bill designed to have a chilling effect on free speech and protest. It has already passed the Senate. Although it is ostensibly about protecting “critical infrastructure facilities”, it is intended to suppress pipeline protests in particular, and it provides severe penalties for even discussing protests on a pipeline easement.

This is a bad, bad bill. You need to lobby the members of the committee to stop this bill. (Some suggestions about steps to take are given at the end of this post.) If the bill passes this committee, it will go to the full House, which will most likely pass it. Then it goes to Governor Wolf, who could veto it but probably won’t. Now is the best chance to get it stopped.

What does the bill say? The bill penalizes “critical infrastructure trespassers”, which it defines as follows:

“Critical infrastructure facility trespasser.—

(1)  A person commits an offense if the person does any of the following:

(i)  Enters or attempts to enter property containing a critical infrastructure facility…

(iv) Conspires with another person to commit a prohibited act….”

And what is a “critical infrastructure facility”? It is any of a long list of places, including refineries, manufacturing facilities, power plants, truck terminals, dams, and (the real purpose behind this bill) “pipelines, whether buried or above ground”. It’s clear that the intent of the bill is to suppress pipeline protests, since it mentions pipelines nine times, whereas it mentions other “critical infrastructure” items only once.

The bill applies whether the “critical infrastructure” is constructed or under construction.

You don’t have to break in, to damage anything, or to obstruct anything in order to be convicted under this bill. If you have an easement on your property, and you go onto to it to retrieve a stray pet, you could be arrested, jailed for up to a year, and fined a minimum of $5,000.

As I read it, the bill would mean that if I encourage you to attend a peaceful protest on a pipeline easement, I would be violating the law by “conspiring to commit a prohibited act”. (And if you talked to anyone about my post, you might be “conspiring” too.)

The full text of the bill can be downloaded as a Word file or PDF here.

If this becomes law, a first offense would be punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of not less than $5,000.

Not only that: it would be a felony, which means you could not own a firearm, and you could not work in many jobs in healthcare and education. For the rest of your life, on every job application, you would have to check “yes” on the box that asks if you have been convicted of a felony.

There are already trespassing bills on the books that have strict penalties for people who trespass and damage or destroy property. This one is targeting peaceful protesters who harm nothing.

This is an “ALEC” bill. This bill closely follows the model of the “Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” promulgated by ALEC (the shadowy, ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council). A summary of ALEC’s secretive approach to influencing state legislatures is here.

ALEC’s  proposed language for bills of this type is here.  If you compare it with the Pennsylvania bill, you will see much of text is identical—except Pennsylvania’s is actually more onerous.

There are eight states that have passed or are considering bills based on the ALEC framework. You can read about those states (including Pennsylvania) here.

What should you do? You need to contact representatives on the Environmental Resources and Energy committee right now, before the Tuesday morning vote. Take a look at the membership list (16 Republicans and 11 Democrats). There is contact information for each of them.

The crucial step is for a few of the Republicans to vote “nay”. (The Democrats are all voting “nay”.) Some plausible Republican “nay” votes are David Zimmerman (Lancaster County (717) 787-3531), Ryan Mackenzie (Berks & Lehigh County (717) 787-1000), and Stephen Bloom (Cumberland County, but from the Philadelphia suburbs: (717) 772-2280). Then, pick a few other Republican members and call them too.

Call now! Tell these legislators what a bad bill this is. Tell them it is suppressing freedom of speech and threatening totally innocent people with enormous penalties. It only takes a minute, and it could make a huge difference.

[Updated 9-24-18: In Pennsylvania, felons can vote after their release.]