BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A trio of North Dakota House measures influenced by the dispute between Dakota Access pipeline protesters and law enforcement sailed through the Republican-led Senate Thursday, though some Democrats called the bills an overreaction and unnecessary.
The Senate voted 33-12 in favor of a measure that makes it a crime for adults to wear masks in most cases. The Senate also approved bills that increase penalties for rioting and trespassing by even wider margins.
The masks and trespassing measures were slightly amended by the Senate. The legislation now returns to the House to see if representatives will agree with Senate changes to the bill. If they do not, a conference committee of three House members and three senators will attempt to strike a compromise.
Republicans said none of the measures infringe on the right to peacefully protest.
Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, called legislation aimed at rioting “knee-jerk.” Under the proposal, those convicted of participating in a riot involving more than 100 people could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine — double the current penalties for a lower-end felony. Participation in smaller riots, currently a misdemeanor, would be upgraded to a felony carrying up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
North Dakota has been the center of protests against the $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline, in large part because of objections of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in the southern part of the state.
There have been more than 700 protest-related arrests in North Dakota since mid-August.