by Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony this week on a bill that would create stiff penalties for defacing, damaging or tampering with oil and gas, mining, railway or telecommunications infrastructure.

House Bill 481 sponsor Rep. Steve Gunderson, R- Libby, said his bill protects the public’s right to peacefully protest while imposing penalties for property damage.

“Once the realm of peaceful is left and there’s burning, damage and rioting, HB 481 would kick in. It sets forth enhanced fines and jail time for those who choose to become rioters rather than peaceful protesters,” Gunderson said during his introduction of the bill Wednesday.

Under HB 481, someone who trespasses on property containing critical infrastructure could be subject to a $1,500 fine and six months in jail. Damaging, defacing or tampering with equipment on a critical infrastructure facility would carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison and a $150,000 fine. It would also subject “an organization found to be a conspirator” to fines up to 10 times the amount levied on the person who committed the crime. 

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