INDIANAPOLIS — Deliberately damaging Northwest Indiana's steel mills, oil refineries and similar "critical infrastructure" throughout the state would be punished more severely under legislation approved 49-0 by the Indiana Senate.

Senate Bill 471 makes it a level 5 felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine, to recklessly, knowingly or intentionally damage or deface the property of a critical infrastructure facility.

The crime is enhanced to a level 4 felony, with up to 12 years in prison, if the damage exceeds $50,000, or causes a "substantial interruption or impairment" of a public utility service.

Even just trespassing at a protected facility would be a level 6 felony and potentially subject the perpetrator to two-and-a-half years behind bars, according to the legislation.

The measure broadly defines "critical infrastructure facility" to include, in addition to steel mills and oil refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, electric utility facilities, water intake or treatment facilities, natural gas stations and equipment, fuel terminals, ports, rail yards and trucking terminals.

Also on the list are pulp or paper manufacturers, prescription drug makers, hazardous waste facilities, crude oil equipment, communications facilities, dams, above-ground pipelines and any similar or related site or equipment.

The sponsor of the measure, state Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said his goal is to discourage organized attacks on utilities or other significant properties that hundreds or thousands of Hoosiers rely on every day.

Under the plan, lawful labor strikes or protests still would be permitted adjacent to such properties. Similarly, a person who is unaware they are trespassing would not be subject to prosecution.

"The bill requires a knowing intention, as with any criminal law, so this isn't something that could ensnare somebody hiking or on a walk. It's very clearly defined and carefully defined," Koch said.

At the same time, an 18-year-old who spray-paints an electrical box by the side of the road could find themselves facing up to six years in prison if the legislation is enacted, as opposed to the usual vandalism charge of misdemeanor criminal mischief.

"All of this, of course, is subject to prosecutorial discretion and the specific facts of the case," Koch said.

The proposal now goes to the House, where it's sponsored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso.

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