OKLAHOMA CITY - The practice of protesting is being debated in the Oklahoma legislature in the form of HB 1123 and 2128.
The bills establish new fines and prison sentences for trespassing at sites deemed “critical infrastructure.”
Those against it said, if passed, the measures would impose severe fines and criminal penalties for those protesting against oil pipelines.
“It creates the most serious misdemeanor punishment for any crime on the books in Oklahoma. Simply walking onto private property carries more series penalties under this legislation than negligent homicide,” said Attorney Doug Parr.
Representative Scott Biggs authored HB 1123 and said, during House debate, it was not designed to prevent peaceful protest but to protect infrastructure like pipelines, water treatment facilities and dams from disruptive protest, like Standing Rock.
Mekasi Camp Horinek of the Ponca Nation was a part of that protest.
“As a father, I'm willing to protect my children's lives with my life,” he said."Threatening me with jail or threatening me with fines is not going to deter me from doing what's right to stand up for my children and my grandchildren in the future generations of my people."
Under HB 1123, if convicted, a protester would be fined a minimum of $1,000, six months in jail or both.
If the intent is to damage equipment, the fine is no less than $10,000, one year in prison or both.
If equipment is actually damaged, a protester is looking at a felony, $100,000 dollar fine, up to 10 years in prison or both.
“There is absolutely no reason for those penalties to exist other than to intimidate and threaten people who might be considering engaging in protest activity against environmentally in dangerous industrial activity,” Parr said.
The second bill goes after special interest groups and employers.
“It’s okay to protest, but it’s not okay to destroy private or public property anywhere,” said Representative Mark McBride.
His measure is geared toward what he calls paid protesters.
“We just want to send a message: 'Please, don’t pay people to come here and cause damage to property.' We don’t want that. But, if that happens, this is another tool in the toolbox that would take it back to that person that has the money to pay for the damages to someone’s property,” McBride said.
We reached out to Biggs several times about his bill.
He declined to give an interview.