It should take about as long to kill the hair-brained attempt in the Colorado state Senate to make it a felony to “tamper” with oil and gas drilling equipment as it does to realize Senate Bill 35 is a reckless attempt to pander to alt-right and oil industry royalty.
The measure passed out of a friendly state Senate committee yesterday on a GOP party line vote. It was moved to the full Senate on the false premise that the state needs to do something to protect the public from left-wing enviro-terrorists who would — as a function of spite or protest — purposely or unwittingly unleash a lethal gas and oil cataclysm from an oil drilling site.
In reality, it looks like one time a few years ago some dolt cut a lock on a fence around an oil pump.
There’s virtually no looming threat of senseless or depraved fracking protesters who would seek to vandalize drilling equipment. There is, however, a very real danger to what short-sighted Republicans can do to enshrined American rights to protest whatever they damned well feel like protesting.
If Republican legislators are looking for real or potential threats to the public, look at gas stations, chlorine tanks at apartment swimming pools, semi-trailer tankers filled with an endless list of heinous substances, trans-fat-filled margarine and the growing army of people who drive like ass-hats on metro interstates. If Republicans are seriously worried about how close these oil and gas drilling operations are to schools and homes, they should join protesters in trying to shut them down.
The measure mirrors others — launched in a few other states where people regularly move here from — making it a crime to conduct protests that some conservatives deem a nuisance or philosophical threat. They invent and defend these measures by saying the public is at risk by iniquitous liberals seeking to spew lethal petroleum components into a school near you.
For those disinterested in the worrisome politics of this subterfuge, suffice it to say that there are already plenty of laws on the books to protect oil companies, or anyone, from vandalism, and to protect the public from enviro-terrorism. As long as you believe enviro-terrorists are deterred by being slapped with a crime, sleep well tonight. As to the peril, bill proponents have failed to show there’s even a remote threat to the public warranting a law that steps all over the First Amendment. So kill the bill.
But if you’re as unnerved as I am by lawmakers seeking to use public safety as a ruse to limit free speech, take the time to call your legislators and tell them what a repugnant and short-sighted idea this is. Proponents of this notion forget that government suppression works both ways. Given their logic, it would be easy to make a case that the public is at great risk in allowing protests anywhere near abortion facilities, where real lives have been lost by gunfire, and where real vandalism continues to occur. Given this logic, the public would be at grave risk by allowing wing-nuts like Ammon Bundy and his band of agri-terrorists to congregate on public lands, given the death and destruction caused by the now infamous Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff in Oregon.
Nope. If an army of tie-died hippies in sandals want to douse themselves in patchouli oil, join hands in a ring around a pumpjack in the middle of some snake-infested prairie-dog village and sing Kumbaya until they’re hoarse, knock yourselves out. If they’re trespassing, write them a ticket. If they’re not, let them be.
American rights to protest, by the left or the right or by kids at the high school who want a dishonest school board member booted off the dais, are rights we should never let the government take from us.
State Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, spelled it out this week during testimony on the measure.
“This is a felony in search of a protester to convict,” Fields said. “In Colorado, we do not live in a dictatorship nor do we have an authoritarian form of government. We live in a democracy that should not suffocate but protect our right to protest, our right to free speech, and our right to assemble to safeguard our community.”
Kill the bill and any like it that are sure to follow.