HB 3557 Would Create Unreasonable Criminal and Civil Penalties for Free Speech & Assembly
We have heard that HB 3557 will have a hearing in Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development this Wednesday, May 15th at 8 am in room E1.012. However, this Committee will not officially post until Monday afternoon.
FYI, there are 21 House Bills that have been recently referred to this Committee so we don’t know how many of these bill will be on the agenda or when HB 3557 might be heard. The Senate has been going into session at 11am, so if HB 3557 is not taken up – or all the witnesses have not been called – the Committee could resume after the Senate adjourns and there is no way to know when that might be.”
Robin Schneider, Executive Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment
Ms. Schneidner also stated it would be VERY helpful if some landowners could testify at this hearing. If that is YOU, please let us know here at BlancoSTP, and we will put you in touch with her.
Here is the info on the bill in question:
HB 3557 (Paddie) is the Texas version of model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and other oil and gas-related demonstrations in recent years. The bill adds significant criminal penalties to any protest activity which Destroying or impairing or interfering with the operations of ”so-called “critical infrastructure.” It threatens these activists with third-degree felonies, the same classification as indecency with a child, carrying sentences of two to ten years in prison.
• Protestors in the past have been arrested on their own property. Pipeline companies have broad rights to claim private property easements, and property owners facing threats to their land and water have often objected to seeing their land carved up by pipeline infrastructure. At least one elderly East Texas woman was arrested on her own property for objecting to tree removals being done in contravention to her agreement with the pipeline company. HB 3557 could throw Texans in prison for defending their property on their own land.
• One of the first major arrests under similar legislation in Louisiana occurred when kayakers legally paddling in public waters were pushed onto private property. A journalist covering anti-pipeline protests there was also arrested and charged with “critical infrastructure trespassing” in August 2018.
• Defenders of sacred spaces could face prison time. Much of the opposition to pipeline construction has been led by Native nations whose sovereignty has been violated or ignored by regulatory processes. These constructions often threaten to disturb sacred burial sites and disinter their ancestors–a gross insult to their religious practices. HB 3557 is an attack on religious liberty.
• The bill makes employers liable for their employees’ actions. The bill could impose liability on a corporation or association whose employees participate in a protest punished under the law. Journalists who wish to cover such protests could face resistance from editors and publishers, and activist employers could be forced to avoid action on these issues.
• Protest in general will be chilled. Few Texans can be expected to keep track of what counts as “critical infrastructure” and what doesn’t. A handful of stories of serious criminal charges for protesters are likely to pause other Texans from taking action in other cases. The legislation is an attack on free speech, and there is less certainty that courts will defend the First Amendment than at other times in the past.
• The bill contributes to over-criminalization. In a session where the House took strong steps towards the decriminalization of marijuana out of recognition of the huge costs of incarcerating Texans unnecessarily HB 3557 threatens to add new criminal justice burdens for offenses already adequately punished under the law.
• The focus SHOULD be on addressing the dangers of pipelines. Nationally since 2010, there have been 4,215 pipeline incidents resulting in 100 reported fatalities, 470 injuries, and property damage exceeding $3.4 billion. Pipeline incidents occurred at a rate of 1.6 per day nationwide, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).