A refinery lobbyist told Kansas legislators that his anti-protest bill has "nothing to do with protest."

A recording of his colleagues saying the opposite was published in 2019.


UPDATE, APRIL 16, 2021: Kansas SB 172 became law on April 9.

. . .

Last time I wrote, I had some news about Arkansas, where an anti-protest bill that is probably unconstitutional has continued to meander its way through the legislature.

It’s a trend, y’all. In addition to Arkansas, there are currently similar bills in Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, and Montana.

This is the fifth wave of state anti-protest bills designed by a cabal of oil, gas, chemical, and electric utility companies. The legislation is backlash to the historic protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline that occurred on the Standing Rock tribal reservation in 2016-2017. In reaction, 14 states have passed one or more of these laws.

The Kansas version of the fossil fuel anti-protest bill, Senate Bill 172, was discussed in the Kansas House of Representatives Judiciary committee yesterday.

The bill was previously approved by the Kansas Senate on March 2, so the House will likely determine if it becomes law.

SB 172 is designed to criminalize nonviolent trespass, and to ensnare organizations affiliated with trespassers in criminal liability.

It even has some racketeering (RICO) charges built in. RICO laws were designed to target the mafia, but now they are often used by corporations against people that dare to hold companies accountable for harm.

You can read more about SB 172 on the ICNL Protest Law Tracker.

Oil Companies Wrote the Bill

A lobbyist for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (and many other clients) named Gavin Kreidler made some remarkable claims.

For one, he said he helped write the bill. Thank you sir, that was easy.

Kreidler then made this astounding claim, responding to a question from state Representative Pam Curtis (D-32).

"Our intent is it has nothing to do with protest. Never ever ever."

That’s not what Mr. Kreidler’s cohorts at the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM ) said during an industry event in 2019.

At that 2019 event, AFPM senior lobbyist Derrick Morgan detailed the AFPM’s effort to spread anti-protest laws in reaction to “protest,” including against “DAPL.”

Lee Fang broke the news for The Intercept, where you can listen to the recording.

“We’ve seen the Valve Turners as well, I’m talking about coordinated efforts to stop development, in that regard. In fact, I brought a couple statistics on the DAPL protest. So, between ten- to fifteen-thousand protestors, about 761 arrests, 94 percent of those are from out of state…”

The Intercept notes that the AFPM was “intimately involved” in the creation of these bills, using the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to distribute them:

James G. Flood, a partner with law firm Crowell & Moring’s lobbying practice, introduced Morgan as “intimately involved” in crafting model legislation that has been distributed to state lawmakers around the country. The attendees at the event received copies of the model bill, called the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, distributed through the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit that serves as a nexus for corporate lobbyists to author template legislation that is then sponsored by state lawmakers affiliated with ALEC.

I noticed that at least four members of the Kansas Senate committee that first introduced SB 172 are affiliated with ALEC.

AFPM Was Under Serious Pressure Yesterday

Two of the Kansas House committee legislators, Representatives John Carmichael (D-92) and John Wheeler (R-123), both noticed that the AFPM’s felony trespass bill has no provision related to stopping hackers from attacking infrastructure.

That was odd, since the AFPM lobbyist, Mr. Kreidler, described how a Florida town’s water supply was recently threatened by a hacker that attempted to contaminate it with lye.

Rep. Carmichael continued to press Kreidler after he alluded to criminal threats SB 172 might deter, without describing any. Kreidler declined to provide examples out of concern for inspiring “copycat” infrastructure attacks.

(He didn’t seem concerned about inspiring hackers to poison Kansas drinking water.)

You can watch that whole exchange, from 17:58 to 25:00, here:

Something unusual happened toward the end of that exchange, when Rep. Wheeler asks his own question about the hacking incident: Kreidler mentioned that the AFPM helped draft the bill.

The AFPM helped write the bill. That’s something.

OneOK: Militia Riots OK. Protests not OK.

A company lobbyist from OneOK (“one oak”), a midstream gas and petrochemicals company, showed up to speak in favor of SB 172.

OneOK is known to employ men who affiliate with conspiratorial and violent militia groups, specifically the Three Percenters. The “Threepers” were among the white nationalist groups involved in the riot at the U.S. Capitol. It claims to have dismantled itself after the riot.

Who Else Wants to Silence Protesting Kansans?

Back on February 16, the bill was supported in a Senate Judiciary committee hearing by the following lobbyists:

  • AFPM lobbyist Gavin T. Kreidler (04:34)

  • Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Jason P. Watkins (11:51).

    • Koch Industries, a repeat advocate for similar anti-protest bills in other states, is part of the Wichita Chamber’s board of directors

  • American Petroleum Institute (API) lobbyist Kent Eckles (20:10)

I confirmed their names and affiliations on the Kansas Secretary of State 2021 lobbyist registry page. Koch Industries lobbyist Michael Morgan—a member of ALEC’s corporate board—is also registered, but he did not speak in hearings on SB 172.

Many people testified against the anti-protest bill.

Zack Pistora of the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club was in the hearing room, and urged against the need for the bill in the first place, citing the lack of examples of problems from the bill’s supporters.

Pistora honed in on the key loophole of the bill:

Expanding the scope of trespassing in this way could invite a wide array of adverse, unintended consequences and penalties for minor, accidental infractions. The line I’m concerned with is, it declares, “…impede or inhibit operations of the facility,” which could equivocate to an accidental infraction.

If you’re a farmer, you’ve got cows getting loose on the highway, that’s the only road into the power plant…was that 'impeding or inhibiting’ the operations of the facility?

Adara Corbin, a Wichita-area community member and racial justice advocate, delivered a speech that stood out, often appealing to the legislator’s own oaths and responsibilities to the public.

Corbin rooted her testimony in the First Amendment, the frequent violations of indigenous treaties on behalf of pipelines, the threat a pipeline disaster can pose to basic human needs, and why that would compel someone to take the personal risks involved in protesting against pipeline development.

Speaking directly to the legislators, Corbin said:

I’m telling you that Senate Bill 172 is harmful because it strips us of our ability to let you know when something is not right. You’re tying our hands in how we can communicate with you about injustices, and you’re doing so intentionally.

What the pipeline issue demonstrates is that people—indigenous, by and large—alongside allies, assemble on critical infrastructure to protect their…needs of livelihood.

People are not arbitrarily gathering on critical infrastructure to cry about nothing. Rather, they are communicating clearly that their water, food, homes, and lives are being put in danger by some governmental structure or another.

This bill would take someone who is fighting for their life, and see to it that they serve jail time for doing so.

John Shivley, on behalf of Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, mentioned Catholic Sisters in Pennsylvania who protested against a pipeline on their own land, handing out bread to construction workers and singing religious songs. He posited that such activity could result in imprisonment if SB 172 were to pass.

Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, made clear:

There are already laws on the books against vandalism, against sabotage, and against putting lye in water supplies. [zing!]

What the real purpose of this bill is, is putting into place definitions of trespassing and “interfering” as part of a national effort by fossil fuel interests and partisan political organizations to stifle political speech in pursuit of their own economic and political interests. […]

Protest, including civil disobedience, is an honorable American tradition. From the Suffrage movement to the Civil Rights movement, to the climate movement and Creation Care movements of today.

When the normal processes don’t work, when the legislative process is paralyzed, sometimes civil disobedience and other forms of nonviolent protest are used to call attention to an important issue.

Rabbi Rieber then highlighted the unconstitutional conspiracy provision of the bill, concerned about the potential for legal attacks on religious organizations simply for being affiliated with people whose behavior would be criminalized by SB 172.

Davis Hammet is part of a group called Loud Light that helps young Kansans engage in the political process. Including this video, about this bill, featuring Hammet:

As Hammet said:

For the most part, it doesn’t actually create new crimes. All it does is increase criminal penalties in hope that would deter something. […]

There’s no nuance in this bill. It really just has essentially four severe steps that could apply to so many different people, that could apply to someone actually attempting to commit an act of terror, and someone accidentally just stumbling onto the wrong piece of property.

Alejandro Rango-López, a Kansas University student who was raised in Dodge City, Kansas, by parents who immigrated from Mexico, explained:

To say the least, the First Amendment, and its guarantee of the protection of free speech and freedom of assembly, are necessary components of our democracy. And, of accountability.

Kansans have a track record of standing by our Constitution in the push for righteousness, even when it wasn’t politically expedient yet to do so. We stood at the forefront of the movement against slavery, and the movement toward women’s suffrage, and again in the 50’s and 60’s in pursuing civil rights.

Peaceful protests and civil disobedience are the bedrock of our state, and allow us to continue to strive toward a better tomorrow.

Finally, Melissa Stiehler used herself as an example, as someone who was arrested for trespassing while handing out flyers at a peaceful demonstration.

The demonstration was against a utility company trying to raise electricity rates - something that had impacted Stiehler’s own family, whose utility access was shut off at times when they could not afford to pay the bills.

A worker came out of the facility and called me over to ask what the rally was about. And whenever I walked over to hand him that flyer, I was arrested for trespassing.

I didn’t even know that I had crossed the invisible line from public to private property, but regardless, I was handcuffed, I was brought to jail.

Luckily, I had a wonderful private attorney who was able to get the misdemeanor charge dropped.

But let’s look at the reality of what could have happened to me if SB 172 had been in place: they could have said that my interacting with that worker was trespassing with the ‘intent to impede or inhibit’ the facility’s operations. Under SB 172, that is a level-7 felony, punishable by approximately two years in prison.

I mentioned above that there was a Senate Judiciary committee hearing last month, on February 16, 2021. Some of the folks above had previously spoke out against the bill in that Senate hearing, along with a couple other people I’d like to mention:

  • A criminal defense lawyer named Bryan Cox took no formal position, but made specific critiques of the bill's language. (24:17)

  • A man named Kent Rowe also urged Kansas Senators to vote against SB 172. Rowe’s position was unique, because he used to fight fires at refineries and other industrial facilities. He has been arrested for civil disobedience before. (43:09)

(The Kansas Senate ignored their concerns and approved the bill.)

I will update this post as the fate of the AFPM bill in Kansas becomes more certain.

I wish good luck to the folks in Kansas fighting against this needless trend.