Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sen. Martin's Bill Could Impose The Public Costs Of Any Protest On The Protesters

Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) has introduced Senate Bill 754 that could impose any public costs for dealing with any “public assembly, meeting or gathering” entirely on the individuals doing the protesting if they are convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in connection with that demonstration.
The introductory findings of the bill point to the costs incurred by public agencies during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests as justification for the bill.
“Dakota Access Pipeline protesters created an environment that was so dangerous, the National Guard was called in and school buses could not travel through the area without a police escort. Nobody benefits from a situation like that,” Sen. Martin said. “I appreciate the fact that local protesters [in Lancaster County against the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline] have remained generally peaceful and respectful of others and have committed to a non-violent approach. They deserve a great deal of credit for that.
“However, if the situation deteriorates to a point similar to the violent and destructive Dakota Access Pipeline protests, then protesters should not be able to walk away from the damage they cause without consequence and expect first responders and taxpayers to deal with the fallout,” said Sen. Martin.
The legislation defines a “demonstration” as, “A public assembly, a meeting or gathering, a rally or protest event, a political rally or event, a demonstration, speech making, marching, the holding of vigils or religious services, and all other like forms of conduct the primary purpose of which is expressive activity or the communication or expression of views or grievances, which has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers.”
The legislation continues, “A person is responsible for public safety response costs incurred by a State agency or political subdivision as a result of the State agency's or political subdivision's response to a demonstration if, in connection with the demonstration, the person is convicted of a felony or misdemeanor offense.”
The costs of the public response could be imposed by state or local officials through the courts.
Click Here to read the co-sponsor memo Sen. Martin circulated to invite colleagues asking them to endorse his legislation.  
Senators Scarnati (R-Jefferson), Ward (R-Westmoreland), Hutchinson (R-Venango), Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny), Bartolotta (R-Washington) and Regan (R-Cumberland) are listed as co-sponsors on the bill.
The bill was referred to the Senate State Government Committee for consideration.  Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) serves as Majority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5708 and sending email to: mfolmer@pasen.gov.  Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) serves as Minority Chair and can be contracted by calling 717-787-5970 and sending email to: williams@pasenate.com.
State Has Protected Citizens From Intimidation In Other Circumstances
Since 2000, when the Pennsylvania Environmental Immunity Act or anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law was passed, any person that “files an action in the courts of this Commonwealth to enforce an environmental law or regulation or that makes an oral or written communication to a government agency relating to enforcement or implementation of an environmental law or regulation shall be immune from civil liability in any resulting legal proceeding for damages where the action or communication is aimed at procuring favorable governmental action.”
On April 25 the Senate voted 42 to 8 to pass Senate Bill 95 (Farnese-D-Philadelphia) that would expand the anti-SLAPP lawsuit protection law to cover a broader class of actions.  Sen. Martin voted against the bill.  The bill is now in the House for action.  Click Here for a sponsor summary of the bill.
While imposing additional damages on individuals and groups protesting government actions through additional damages imposed by a court is not the same as SLAPP lawsuits, Pennsylvania lawmakers have for the last 17 years protected the right of citizens to make their opinions known about issues before the government.
Like SLAPP suits, which illegally seek to impose legal and other costs on individuals and groups opposing projects to discourage protests and opposition, imposing additional damages would do the same thing, but only with the government imposing the damages, not a private company through a SLAPP suit and court action.

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