Senate Bill Would Force Convicted Protesters To Pay Emergency Response Costs

Aug 23, 2017

A state Senate proposal that would essentially charge protesters for being arrested is causing some backlash at the Capitol.

The GOP sponsor says it would protect taxpayers from bearing the cost of violent or destructive protests.

But opponents say it will infringe on free speech.

First-term Republican Senator Scott Martin of Lancaster County said he was inspired to write the bill after hearing of the damage Dakota Access Pipeline protesters did last year.  

But he noted, it could actually apply much more widely.

“With what’s going on here in our county and pretty much in a lot of places when you turn on your TV now, we see people who have the intent of not just coming to exercise their free speech, but people who are coming to cause harm,” he said. “Our resources are precious, and there should be repercussions for that.”

Under the measure, if protesters are convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, they could be forced to pay the cost of first-responders’ time, as well as be charged for property damage.

Martin said peaceful protesters generally wouldn’t have to pay anything, but people engaging in civil disobedience would.

“Let’s say there’s a situation where someone—say they chained themselves intricately to a bulldozer or something like that. Do you know how many resources [it takes] for guys to come out and have to remove these things from people?” he asked. “That ties up precious resources.”

Advocacy groups have pushed back, saying Martin’s bill could discourage even nonviolent protesters, and impede free speech.

The measure will first be considered in the Senate State Government Committee.