Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers-D, signed into law a bill designed to criminalize environmental protests, despite widespread opposition from local and national environmental and social justice groups, as well as some of Wisconsin’s federally recognized tribes.
In a press release, the governor echoed oil and gas industry talking points saying, “Today, I signed Assembly Bill 426, which 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.”
The law, now 2019 Wisconsin Act 33, echoes similar “critical infrastructure protection” model bills pushed out by the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, and the Council of State Governments over the last two years to prevent future protests like the one against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Wisconsin is the tenth state to pass such a bill.
Under the new law, peaceful protestors can be charged with a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine if they trespass on property owned, leased, or operated by companies engaged in the distribution of oil or petroleum.
In late October, he received a letter from thirty-six state groups, including the ACLU, the Sierra Club, the landowner group 80 Feet is Enough!, Menikanaehkem, and others. They pointed to a number of concerns, including that the bill violates constitutional rights, and will result in more people of color imprisoned and a loss of landowner rights. Evers then received a second letter from fourteen national groups including Defending Rights & Dissent, Greenpeace, the National Lawyers Guild, PEN America, and others. It stated that “Special protections designed to protect the energy industry from protests, including nonviolent civil disobedience, do nothing to protect the public or worker safety. They do threaten our democracy by chilling dissent.”