Update: On Feb. 13, an amended version of HB 4615 passed out of the House on a 60-35 vote. Now it is on to the Senate. Watch our website for updates.
Please come out for a public hearing on HB 4615, “The West Virginia Critical Infrastructure Protection Act,” which would create new criminal and civil penalties for conduct around gas and oil pipelines that could be applied to individuals and organizations involved in peaceful protests.
Public Hearing on HB 4615, the Anti-Protest Bill
8:30 a.m., Monday February 10
in the House Chamber at the WV State Capitol
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East, Charleston, West Virginia
In State Houses around the United States, bills are being introduced that would criminalize peaceful protest. The bills would dramatically increase civil fines for protesters, and increase criminal penalties for specific forms of protest, even for organizations and individuals supporting protest.
In the states where the bills have become enacted to law, challenges are underway at great expense to all involved.
Greenpeace protesters in Texas appear to be the first to have been charged under these types of bills, and could face two years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. The organization itself could face a fine of up to $500,000 under the new state law. The Texas bill could even impact journalists covering protests.
People in Ohio have been resisting a similar bill there, and now this corporations-over-people bill has invaded West Virginia.
HB 4615 is un-American. A basic right for Americans is the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the country. Protest was a foundational tenant for American democracy, and since our foundling days, protest has been essential in raising awareness about injustices to bring about social reforms.
HB 4615 is unconstitutional. The right to peacefully assemble is protected under the First Amendment.
Peaceful protest works. Almost every day in America people come together peacefully to demonstrate and raise our voices about clean air and water, equal rights for women and people of color, fair wages and working hours, local land use, and other issues we believe in.
We all deserve to live in a society where we can speak our mind without fear of punishment. This is free speech. If a company is polluting our water source or a politician is acting against the people, we should be able to speak up. This bill stops people from criticizing the powerful.
HB 4615 reeks of ALEC’s* widespread efforts to clamp down on protests of all kinds. HB 4615 has heightened penalties for trespass onto “critical infrastructure” (one year in jail), and felony penalties for trespass with intent to “willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment, or impede or inhibit operations” (three years in prison and a $1,000 fine). Actual damage, destruction, vandalism, defacing, tampering, impeding/inhibiting is a felony subject to five years in prison and a $2,000 fine. A person convicted of any of these offenses is also civilly liable to third parties for any personal or property damage that results. (*See: ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection.)
The bill contains conspiracy provisions as well, creating liability for a person or organization that “conspires” to trespass (a $5,000 fine) or to damage/tamper/etc. (a $10,000 fine). Any entity that “compensates, provides consideration to or remunerates a person” for trespassing is also civilly liable for any personal or property damage.
If you can’t make it to the public hearing, please do let your delegate know this bill is unacceptable. As it begins, you should be able to access a live stream of the public hearing by clicking on the “House of Delegates Chamber” audio or video link here.
Please stand up for democracy! Come out to this hearing and/or comment to legislators, and then make plans to join us the following Monday, February 17, for Good Government Lobby Day. Register for that, here.