Wisconsin governor signs pipeline protest bill over critics’ objections

    Susan J. Demas

    Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers last week signed a widely supported, yet also controversial, bill escalating penalties for trespassing on pipelines and other energy and water sites.

    Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers | Wikimedia Commons

    The Democrat on Wednesday signed AB 426, which passed with bipartisan support and was backed by business groups as well as labor unions whose members work in pipeline construction projects. Opponents of the bill included environmental and free-speech activists and Native American bands. The bill makes trespassing on energy and water infrastructure a felony subject to up to six years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

    Business and union supporters of the legislation have contended that some protests on pipeline project sites have threatened worker safety and led to property damage. Opponents contend the legislation’s real purpose is to intimidate lawful, peaceful protesters. 

    The legislation includes language that says its penalties would not apply to a variety of legal acts, including union organizing, safety inspections, and otherwise “lawful” protests.

    In a statement, Evers said the measure “aims to ensure each energy provider is treated the same under the law while still protecting the right to exercise free speech and the right to assembly.”

    In his statement, he also asserted that “Tribal Nations deserve to have a voice in the policies and legislation that affect indigenous persons and our state,” and called on lawmakers to “engage in meaningful dialogue and consultation with Wisconsin’s Tribal Nations before developing and advancing policies that directly or indirectly affect our Tribal Nations and indigenous persons in Wisconsin.” 

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    Reacting to the signing, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin’s executive director Chris Ott stated the organization was “deeply disappointed” and vowed that the ACLU “will closely monitor the enforcement of this law and oppose any attempts to infringe on the freedom of speech or criminalize people for making their voices heard.”

    The story first ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Wisconsin Examiner. Read the story here.

    Erik Gunn
    Erik Gunn reports and writes on work, the economy, health care & policy, and related subjects for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.