Heightened penalties for trespassing or damaging critical infrastructure included
ST. PAUL – The 2020 legislative session has not yet begun, but State Rep. Shane Mekeland, R-Clear Lake, already has introduced two bills to protect the state’s energy supply.
One bill would create further penalties for trespassing or damaging critical infrastructure such as pipelines. The other would prohibit cities from banning natural gas.
Mekeland said the latter (H.F. 3033) became a more prominent issue when San Francisco recently approved legislation mandating all new government buildings – including libraries, community centers and office spaces – and renovations be fully electric.
“We need a sensible, all-of-the-above energy approach to help guarantee our needs are met at all times,” Mekeland said. “Electric mandates take us the opposite direction. We’ve heard about how our energy grid is fragile, poorly maintained and susceptible to attack and now some people want to limit our options. They’ve even brought it up in House committee meetings. The liberals have prematurely pushed to shutter coal plants in our region and now they want to push out natural gas. It just never ends with them, so my bill would ensure we don’t needlessly make our state more vulnerable to energy instability.”
The bill regarding trespassing or damaging critical infrastructure (H.F. 2966) creates a new felony offense for anyone training or recruiting protesters who damage critical infrastructure, including pipelines. It is a reincarnation of legislation former Rep. Dennis Smith authored and would penalize a person or entity “that knowingly recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, conspires with, or otherwise procures” somebody else to commit property damage on a pipeline or other critical public service facility.
Smith’s iterations of the bill twice passed the House in 2018, once as a stand-alone that was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton and also as an omnibus provision which was stripped by a conference committee.
“This is simply an attempt to deter extremists from engaging in activities that could cause public safety hazards,” Mekeland said. “Free speech is a staple of our Constitution and my bill does not impact anyone’s ability to exercise their right to peaceful protests. What we need to create is a bright line with serious consequences for coordinated, extreme activity that crosses the threshold from free speech and enters the criminal realm, whether it’s trespassing or causing property damage.”
Mekeland’s bill calls for perpetrators to be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $20,000. Mekeland said he is considering amending the proposal to also provide restitution for environmental clean-up and recovery costs caused by criminal activities.
“Last November, a group of extremists constructed a 30-foot-tall tripod device and blocked work from happening at the Clearbrook Terminal,” Mekeland said. “These are the types of criminal acts we are looking to address in my bill, especially as the Line 3 pipeline replacement project commences across northern Minnesota. This is an effort to protect citizens, workers and public safety officials from undue harm.”
Both of Mekeland’s bills were submitted to the House before the Jan. 30 pre-filing deadline, giving the proposals high-priority status and a head start in the legislative process ahead of the Feb. 11 start date for the 2020 legislative session in St. Paul.