A controversial new House Bill aimed at introducing harsh criminal penalties for environmental protestors is all set for its third reading in the Senate, having made further progress toward its final passage into becoming law at the end of last month.
The new law seeks to build further on existing legislation 'relative to unauthorized entry of and criminal damage to a critical infrastructure' and has been met with harsh criticism by civil liberties lawyers.
Principal critics of the new legislation include Anne Rolfes, founder of the environmental protest group the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a network of activists dedicated to ending petrochemical pollution in Louisiana.
According to Rolfes the primary aim of House Bill 727 is to prevent organizations such as the Louisiana Bucket Brigade from protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. And, at the centre of the controversy that now surrounds the bill and the protests that it is designed to disrupt are Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation made infamous by last year's demonstrations at Standing Rock.
Another prominent critic of the Bill is Loyola University New Orleans law professor Bill Quigley, a First Amendment civil and human rights specialist with links to a number of Louisiana based environmental groups. According to Quigley, the Louisiana Bill is overly draonian and seeks to 'Hypercriminalize Pipeline Protests'.
Quigley is also of the opinion that the new legislation is a blatant attempt at intimidation of activists.
Back in April, whilst Bill 727 was still scheduled for floor debate in the House prior to being passed up to the Senate for further scrutiny and amendment, protesters opposed to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline took part in an action blocking an industrial supply company’s facility just outside of Lake Charles.
Their intention was to attempt to frustrate the Pipeline's construction by disrupting the supply of access mats used to create temporary roadways at pipeline construction sites. Among those taking part was retired teacher Renate Heurich, a member of 350 New Orleans, a local organization which describes itself as a 'volunteer climate activist group connecting our region to the international climate change movement'. The organization is affiliated to, and ultimately a part of, the very much bigger 350.org, which likewise refers to itself on its website as 'building the global grassroots climate movement that can hold our leaders accountable to science and justice.' It is the activities of organizations such as these, and their respective memberships, that Bill 727 has been enacted to curtail.
Among the powers that Bill 727 is intended to give law enforcement is that of criminalizing any kind of 'conspiracy' to commit trespass against what the Bill seeks to define as 'Critical Infrastructure'.
Sentences would range from up to a year in jail for conspiracy to commit trespass, whilst more serious felonies relating to actual damage would carry a sentence of anything up to 20 years along with a $250,000 fine.
Due to the fact that many within the Environmental Movement view these powers as constituting excessive overreach, the new Bill may usher in a whole series of law suits against the State of Louisiana due to the House Bill 727's potential for infringing upon the First Amendment Rights of Louisiana citizens.