Riley Eubanks, Ball State University

A bill to protect infrastructure deemed vital to the state passed the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee despite questions Monday about whether the legislation would infringe on Hoosiers’ constitutional rights.

Opponents of the bill, including the ACLU and NAACP, said that vague language in the bill could be used to prosecute peaceful protesters and their organizations for being associated with rogue protesters who intentionally trespass and damage property.

Senate Bill 471 lists “critical infrastructure facilities,” such as power plants, telecommunication stations and aluminum manufacturers, among other properties, and defines them as having more protections than other properties because they are vital to the state.

If enacted, the bill, which passed committed 8-3, would make trespassing on and damaging such properties subject to higher level felonies and fines.

Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, who authored and presented the bill to the committee, said he was confused as to what language in the bill made people think it infringes on Hoosier’s right to protest.

Denise Abdul-Rahman of the NAACP said language in the bill was too vague because it stipulated “high criminal felonies” for being near or associated with any offense negatively impacting a critical infrastructure.

The bill could be used as an intimidation tool to keep Hoosiers from protesting the listed properties, many of which negatively impact the environment, Abdul-Rahman said.

Rep. John Young, R-Franklin, disagreed with Abdul-Rahman, telling her to “take a closer look at the bill.”

Katie Blair, director of advocacy and public policy for ACLU of Indiana, said the bill would “no doubt” bring lawsuits against the state over constitutional rights.

“Legislators are using protection of ‘critical infrastructure’ as a guise to chill free speech,” Blair said in a statement.

Koch showed video of a still at-large criminal cutting open a fence and setting fire to Colin

McCarty’s communication property. The crime kept 70 households in the area from using their home phones for 17 hours.

McCarty said his property is vital to the community and, while his services were down, those households couldn’t reach 911 emergency services.

“Watching my property burn is not easy,” said McCarty, who has had to pay nearly $150,000 in vandalism expenses.

The bill, which had passed through the Senate unanimously, received three no votes from the House committee’s Democratic representatives.

Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, said the bill is “making a mess” of Indiana law.

“I don’t know why we pass super sloppy legislation that doesn’t make sense,” Dvorak told Koch while explaining his no vote.

The bill will go to a full vote in the House in the coming weeks.

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