Photo: AP

The Bismarck Tribune reported on Wednesday, that Republican North Dakota Rep. Keith Kempenich has introduced a remarkably evil bill (HB 1203) that would legally absolve drivers for unintentionally hitting pedestrians who are obstructing traffic on a public road or highway. Drivers would be exempt from liability for injuring or killing a pedestrian in this way.

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The pedestrians Kempenich is referring to specifically are protesters, like the ones who used obstructive tactics to successfully block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Standing Rock Indian Reservation lands in his state.

Kempenich invoked the Dakota Access protests in the course of justifying his bill’s existence, claiming that groups of protesters blocked roadways, making it difficult for drivers to pass through. Kempenich asserted that these roadways are, “not there for the protesters,” who were, “intentionally putting themselves in danger.”

It’s not clear whether this actually ever happened or that, as Kempenich also claimed, a protester jumped in front of a vehicle waving a sign. A tactic that was covered extensively during the Dakota Access protests was police officers’ habit of beating up protesters.

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According to the Tribune, “Kempenich said one should consider what might happen if someone panics when coming upon a group of people gathered along a public roadway.” When I consider this scenario I imagine a driver not panicking and slowing down. Excusable manslaughter is not an appropriate solution to this scenario. In fact, it’s an outrageous proposition with a real potential to incite violence against protesters and others.

North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson (also a Republican) seemed to want to distance himself from this bill, telling the Tribune that he had nothing to do with it and that, “The role of the Legislature is to work with the professionals. We won’t violate the right to peaceful protest.”

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[via The Bismark Tribune]