Our Voices Won’t be Silenced: We’re Watching Proposed Legislation Regarding Protest

The 2020 South Dakota Legislative Session doesn’t start until Jan. 14, but there’s already action being taken in Pierre.

Last month, Gov. Kristi Noem announced that she intends to amend South Dakota’s riot boosting laws aimed at Keystone XL pipeline protestors and circulated draft legislation to legislators, tribal leaders, state's attorneys, and others.

The proposed bills would amend current state laws, including sections of the “Riot Boosting Act,” that cannot be enforced because of an October 2019 settlement agreement that made permanent an earlier federal court ruling that temporarily blocked enforcement of unconstitutional provisions of the anti-protest laws.

The ACLU is currently examining this proposed legislation, but since it hasn’t been formally introduced yet, we haven’t taken a position. Once it’s been formally introduced, we’ll analyze the constitutionality of the legislation, the implications for the free speech and right to peacefully assemble of South Dakotans, and the impact on indigenous communities in our state.

In the meantime, the governor requested public feedback about the proposed legislation, and the ACLU has provided comment.

But requesting public comment isn’t enough.

The governor and our elected officials must consult with the people who will bear the heaviest burden of any laws regarding protest. We’re unaware of any efforts to meaningfully engage with our partners and stakeholders – including the very plaintiffs we represented in the original “Riot Boosting Act.” It’s also imperative that an open and transparent hearing process be conducted on any proposed legislation to avoid the mistakes of 2019. Timely and adequate notice to affected constituencies and ample time for testimony is crucial.

Public input is a vital part of our democracy. The voice of the people must be able to be heard in a meaningful way, and taking that opportunity away from South Dakotans is a subversion of our entire democratic process.