Month Day, 2019 Dear Senator: The organizations below urge you to oppose two bills being reintroduced by Senator Mike Regan and Senator Scott Martin that seek to trample Pennsylvanians’ right to free speech, right to free association, their property rights, and their environmental rights. The bills are constitutionally suspect and could have far-reaching effects on protest that has long been a cornerstone of our democracy. Senator Regan’s bill (a reintroduction of 2017-2018’s SB 652) would expand the scope of criminal trespass in Pennsylvania and impose harsh penalties on peaceful protesters, particularly those fighting to protect and preserve their environment and the health and safety of their families from the development of oil and gas infrastructure. Senator Martin’s bill (a reintroduction of 2017-2018’s SB 754) would impose financial burdens on residents for public safety costs associated with public, free speech demonstrations. The bills would turn peaceful protest at “critical infrastructure” sites into a 2nd degree felony on par with sexual assault or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. A repeat offense would constitute a first degree felony on par with kidnapping, rape, and murder.
While some public safety costs can be incurred through the exercise of First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceable assembly, these are expenses that are a joint part of our democracy and no one segment of society should be targeted for unfair and costly exposure simply for exercising their fundamental and constitutional rights. Had these tactics been used to silence civil rights, women’s rights, gun rights, and/or due process rights protests we may never have achieved the critical recognition of these rights in our Commonwealth. Meanwhile, this bill hides its purpose under the cover of criminalizing “vandalism,” which is already a crime in Pennsylvania. The gas and pipeline industries should not receive special protections simply because they are getting protested more often than most other industries. The intent of these bills is clearly to intimidate and deter potential protesters. Such concepts run counter to our First Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has sharply limited the government’s authority to impose liability on organizations or their members for misconduct or criminal acts that occur during political demonstrations. Lower courts have similarly rejected attempts to hold demonstrators liable on the grounds that the government can recover their costs through existing civil and criminal sanctions against those directly responsible. Please uphold our democratic values and constitutional rights by refraining from co-sponsoring this legislation and by voting NO if it’s brought up for a vote. Sincerely,