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Driver liability bill defeated in North Dakota House

BISMARCK—The North Dakota House defeated a bill Monday, Feb. 13, that would have allowed drivers who injured or killed somebody who was intentionally blocking traffic to avoid liability.

House Bill 1203 was introduced in reaction to the monthslong protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Some of the demonstrations have taken place on roads, and primary bill sponsor Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, said the legislation moves responsibility to the "initiating party."

"I think it shows that we're willing to stand up for the citizens of this state," Kempenich said.

But Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said the bill could have unintended consequences for people intentionally blocking a roadway during a parade, as he did often during his campaign for governor last summer.

"That's the problem with this, is that it's not just one situation," he said.

The bill said a driver who, "while exercising reasonable care," injures or kills a person who is intentionally obstructing vehicle traffic on a public road may not be held liable for any damages. Similarly, a driver who unintentionally injuries or kills somebody obstructing traffic would not be guilty of offense.

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, said some people have had to taken an alternate route to avoid the protesters in Morton County south of Mandan.

"They scare our people," he said. "Why should little kids have to have nightmares of idiots in masks pounding on windows, pounding on the hoods, riding on the hoods and not letting people through on a road that's supposed to have a speed of 55 mph?"

Protest leaders have contended that much of their actions have been peaceful. There have been 660 protesters arrested since Aug. 10, according to information provided Monday by the North Dakota Joint Information Center.

The bill failed on a 41-50 vote.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up several protest-related bills Monday. Among them were bills preventing people from wearing masks in order to avoid being identified while committing a crime and another elevating riot offenses, both of which passed the House last week.

The committee didn't take immediate action on the legislation Monday morning.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

(701) 255-5607
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