A packed room for Riot Booster 2.0 first hearing in House State Affairs

Governor Noem’s “Riot Booster” legislation re-boot passed House State Affairs Committee this morning on a 10-3 vote.

Committee Chair & House Majority Leader Lee Qualm (R-Platte) limited testimony to twenty minutes for each side, cutting off speaking opportunities for several in the packed room–including at least one Tribal Chairman who had traveled to testify.

Because Dakota Rural Action’s lobbyist is in Pierre and has access to legislators for the entirety of the session, it is our policy to “stand down” and yield our speaking time to others who have traveled to testify–particularly in the case of elders and heads of sovereign Native nations. With today’s tight time restrictions, that meant we were unable to share our thoughts.

Below is DRA’s testimony prepared for today’s hearing:

“Good morning Mr. Chair and Members of the Committee. My name is Rebecca Terk, and I am the registered lobbyist for Dakota Rural Action. We rise in opposition to House Bill 1117.

Before I read my prepared remarks, I want to respond to what the Governor’s staff referred to as an “open and transparent” drafting process for this bill. Staff indicated that ‘concerned parties’ were provided a copy of the draft bill and encouraged to provide public comment.

Dakota Rural Action did not receive communication nor a copy of the draft bill from the Governor’s office. As the first-named party in the suit against the previous ‘Riot Booster’ act, one might assume that we would be considered a ‘concerned party.’ We understand that other plaintiffs were similarly dis-included from the process, suggesting the need for clarification from the Governor’s Office as to what ‘open and transparent’ means to them.

That said, we have been able to access and review a copy of the bill as well as the packet of materials submitted to legislators ahead of this bill’s introduction. And what we will say about those materials and the bill they support is that they represent the continuation of a false narrative out of North Dakota, and the protests at Standing Rock.

That state’s failed policies in regard to the protests there resulted in hundreds–if not thousands–of unlawful arrests and cost the state millions. Instead of changing course and learning from that debacle, South Dakota is doubling down. We see that in the repetition of misinformation in support of last year’s Riot Booster Bill and this year’s–and undoubtedly we’ll also see it in the other anti-free speech bills filed this session.

The misinformation includes claims that out-of-state ‘professional protesters’ are at any moment planning to descend upon our state, which appears to be based on North Dakota’s top ten list of arrestees by state. Of course, number two on their list is South Dakota (that’s us) and number three is them–North Dakota. The list also ignores the fact that Standing Rock straddles the border of our two states, and that all that land from the East bank of the Missouri River westward is unceded treaty territory, and the homeland of the Oceti Sakowin, or Great Sioux Nation. So let’s be honest about who this bill targets.

North Dakota’s propaganda, included in your legislative packet, also claims that six hundred sixty-one ‘professional protesters’ were arrested at Standing Rock. Those of you who were in this committee a couple of years ago for Governor Daugaard’s anti-protest bill may remember two tribal chairmen telling the stories of their arrests there. Are we going to claim that leaders of sovereign Native nations are in fact ‘professional protesters’? Or is there a separate list of the non-professional protesters?

The idea that even a small fraction of the folks arrested were ‘professionals’ (and Governor Noem has claimed they were ‘paid’ in press statements) is simply ridiculous. People show up to protect their land and water not because they’re paid, but because they know their lives depend on it.

Make no mistake that these kinds of bills are about targeting our own people. People whose lives depend on the land, water, and communities that we are here to protect.

South Dakotans are already paying for a lost lawsuit defending the first version of this bill. We’re paying for the militarization of our police forces, for the endless meetings and civil disturbance trainings and technology to spy on our own residents.

We’re paying for the seventeen-plus SWAT units that were here day after day after day of the Water Management Board hearings because of a small group of attorneys, intervenors, and witnesses challenging those permits. We were vastly outnumbered by police–and for what purpose? We did have a toddler along for a few days–so perhaps there was a fear of riot and destruction relating to that? Everyone knows how dangerous little ones can be…

The point is…how much is all this costing our state–in time, in treasure–in a sense of community and well-being? And all of it in service of a foreign corporation with an atrocious track record or leaks, spills, and accidents. All for a project that has zero benefit and immense risk for ALL of us.

Riot is illegal. Inciting riot is illegal. That was true before last year’s bill was pushed through, and it’s true now. ‘Riot Boosting’ is a made-up term that may be great for hashtags on social media but doesn’t appear to mean anything real, specific, or legitimate when it comes to the law.

There is simply no purpose for this bill other than to further false narratives that divide us and chill the free expression of our constitutional rights.

We urge you to defeat House Bill 1119.”



Faith Spotted Eagle testifies in opposition to the new version of “Riot Booster” in House State Affairs Committee

In the waning hours of the 2019 Legislative Session, Governor Noem, aided by a super-majority of legislators, passed the unconstitutional “Riot Booster” Act targeting individuals and organizations opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Dakota Rural Action and other plaintiffs–represented by the ACLU–took them to court and won a major victory when Federal Judge Lawrence Piersol issued a preliminary ruling blocking the enforcement of “Riot Booster” and other existing laws criminalizing free speech and the right to peaceable assembly.

The State’s agreement to settle the case blocked enforcement of those unconstitutional laws; however, unwilling to concede defeat, the Governor is now trying to pushing through a “clean up” bill that, while seemingly constitutional on its face, represents the same chilling of free speech and right to protest that was the aim of the previous act.

See the full text of House Bill 1117 and its movement HERE.