Gov. Greg Gianforte on Friday signed a bill to add additional criminal penalties to those who trespass on and damage property associated with critical infrastructure projects.
Libby Republican Rep. Steve Gunderson, who sponsored House Bill 481, maintained that his bill keeps protesters' First Amendment rights intact, and would only kick into effect when people crossed the line from protesting into criminal conduct. During the legislative process, Gunderson used the Dakota Access Pipeline as an example.
Tribal groups condemned the measure as one that would deter Native communities from exercising their right to peacefully protest. A councilman for the Fork Peck Tribes said it unnecessarily amped-up penalties that already exist — tripling the penalties for trespassing and increasing penalties for conspiracy ten-fold — on behalf of massive corporations.
One Democratic lawmaker who opposed the measure in committee called it "draconian."
The bill, which largely passed through the Legislature along party lines, includes an exemption for labor unions who protest as already permitted in federal law.
Similar laws have been enacted in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas. The ACLU of Montana said in February a law with similar language was struck down in South Dakota as unconstitutional.