Illinois lawmakers are at odds over how to punish damage to important infrastructure. Some fear it would mean harsher sentences for charges that already exist.
House lawmakers approved a plan creating a new offense for damage to critical infrastructure. It applies to areas like railroads, power suppliers, dams and water treatment plants.
Under the legislation, people who harm or trespass on these sites could face a felony charge and a fine of $10,000.
But State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago, said the plan is a step in the wrong direction.
“These penalties exist. These behaviors are already criminalized,” Cassidy said. “We don’t need to double down. We don’t need to put more people in prison for longer.”
Environmental activists argue it is part of a national effort to limit their right to protest. Similar legislation passed in South Dakota after the 2017 Standing Rock demonstrations.
Jen Walling, with the Illinois Environmental Council, said the Illinois proposal casts too far a net.
“The vast majority of the state might end up being critical infrastructure, as this is defined,” she said. “This may catch far more than the people it’s intended to go after.”
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, the bill’s sponsor, said peaceful protests are specifically allowed under the plan. Employee picketing and vandalism are also excluded from the offense.
Hoffman, a Democrat from Swansea, said it's an extension of an Obama-era rule enhancing penalties for harm to nuclear power plants.
The legislation is House Bill 1633.