The ACLU of North Dakota opposes Senate Bill 2044, legislation that would increase the legal penalties for tampering with or damaging a critical infrastructure facility or public service.

The bill would criminalize activity far beyond the intentional causing of property damage, extending penalties to activity such as “interfering with” or “inhibiting” the operations of critical infrastructure.

Existing law already prohibits trespass and malicious destruction of property and conspiracies to commit the same. Given that, this bill’s focus on critical infrastructure facilities belies its neutral purpose – as do its excessive fines. Additionally, Senate Bill 2044 would punish organizations found to be a conspirator with those individuals found to be in violation of the new prohibitions. Making an organization criminally liable for all damage would impermissibly burden the rights of political association that are protected by the First Amendment – the literal embodiment of guilt by association.

Senate Bill 2044 - like similar legislation introduced in 2019 in eight states including Oklahoma, Idaho, Wyoming, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Pennsylvania - builds on a trend of anti-protest legislation that aims to chill protesters from using precisely those tactics that have proven most successful for getting their voices heard.

At best, Senate Bill 2044 is entirely unnecessary. At worst, it is meant to chill speech.