Felony Trespass Bill Goes to Governor

November 6, 2019

A bill that would make it a felony to trespass on pipeline property or damage gas, oil, and water pipelines was approved Tuesday by the Senate and now goes to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The measure, Assembly Bill 426, was introduced in September with bipartisan support, but frequently criticized by environmental groups and Indian tribes.

Supporters say the bill is necessary to discourage vandalism that damages or disrupts the delivery of oil, gas, and water, as well as protect pipeline workers who could be injured or worse from job-site vandalism.

Supporters include a host of powerful special interests, including business and manufacturing groups, unions, construction, the oil and gas industry, agriculture, railroads, and utilities. The measure’s key supporters include Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), Wisconsin AFL-CIO, Wisconsin Laborers District Council, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, and the American Petroleum Institute.

Opponents say the bill would quash legitimate protests like the Standing Rock protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline two years ago. They also say the proposal could inhibit hunting and recreation and activities by landowners on land that pipelines cross.

The proposal exempts people participating in lawful protests, union organizing, and picketing.

Opponents also say the proposal is an ALEC-inspired bill similar to those introduced in about 20 other states in recent years. ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) is a pro-business bill mill created in the 1970s to unite powerful business interests with mostly GOP and conservative state legislators around the country. They meet to develop “model legislation” that state policymakers can tweak and introduce in their home states.

But supporters, like Democratic Sen. Janet Bewley, of Mason, say the plan approved by the legislature exempts union organizing and striking, which are provisions ALEC would not support.

The bill carries penalties of up to six years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine, or both. These penalties would match penalties in current law for people convicted of trespassing and damaging utility property and operations.