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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: January 11, 2019 04:14 PM
From: Senator Scott Martin
To: All Senate members
Subject: Response Cost Reimbursement
I intend to reintroduce Senate Bill 754 of the 2017-18 legislative session, which shields taxpayers against the additional costs resulting from illegal activity during protests.

Last session, I introduced this legislation when it became clear that Pennsylvania could become ground zero for major demonstrations surrounding the construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. This came on the heels of the destructive protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which cost taxpayers in North Dakota over $40 million. While there were multiple demonstrations in Lancaster County, they remained peaceful. However, on multiple occasions, protestors using lockdown devices had to be surgically extracted costing a considerable amount of taxpayer resources and occupied emergency responders for hours. Responding to demonstrations and arresting dozens of individuals, some of which were from other states like New York and Massachusetts, has had an estimated cost of over $70,000 to state and local taxpayers.

The fundamental right to free speech, assembly and petition is part of the bedrock of democracy and is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I of the Constitution of Pennsylvania. However, it is improper for taxpayers to bear the financial burden for response costs related to illegal or destructive activity that stems from the right to protest on private or public lands.

In addition to remedies currently allowed by law, this legislation would allow for the recovery of costs by holding a person liable for emergency response costs if the person participating in a demonstration is convicted for a felony or misdemeanor. It is important to note that this legislation does not include summary offenses, nor will it impact an individual’s right to legally exercise their first amendment rights in any way. Only those who break the law and are convicted in a court of law would be impacted by this legislation.

This concept of being held liable for emergency response costs does have legal precedent. Currently, Pennsylvania state law states that a person convicted of making terroristic threats under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2706 shall be ordered to cover costs for fire and police response, emergency medical services or emergency preparedness response, in addition to other costs associated with the incident.

Individuals have a right to protest, and we as leaders in our community have a responsibility to work to ensure that these protests are held peacefully and in a manner that will not burden the local population.

Please consider joining me in co-sponsoring this important legislation.

Introduced as SB323