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'Some of us were left out of the puzzle': Noem's KXL bill package flies through despite questions on procedure

The Syncrude oil sands plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, Aug. 28, 2015. The Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry oil from Canadian oil sands fields to the Gulf of Mexico, has long been at the center of a struggle pitting environmentalists against advocates of energy independence and economic growth. Copyright 2017 New York Times1 / 2
A map of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Image courtesy of TransCanada.2 / 2

PIERRE, S.D. -- Three days after it was dropped, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's package to curb violent pipeline protests has flown through both chambers of the legislature.

Noem dropped Senate Bills 189 and 190 on Monday, March 4. Two days later on Wednesday, a joint hearing was held on the bills. By Thursday, the legislature suspended rules in order to pass both bills out of both chambers on the same day.

SB 189 establishes civil penalties for "riot boosting," or contributing money to or encouraging protesters who engage in violence. SB 190 creates a funding source for extraordinary costs attributed to pipeline protests, sourced from local, state and federal dollars, as well as contributions from the pipeline company.

The package was introduced ahead of the looming construction of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline. Noem has said she hopes the bills prevent South Dakota from seeing protests like those in North Dakota on the Dakota Access pipeline.

The bills passed overwhelmingly on both sides: SB 189 by 30-4 in the Senate and by 53-13 in the House, and SB 190 by 31-3 in the Senate and 58-8 in the House.

Noem said in a Thursday news conference that the bills were introduced in the final days of the session because her staff wanted to spend ample time on the package before bringing it forward, only having taken office in January. The governor's office coordinated with representatives of TransCanada, law enforcement, local governments and state agencies to draft the bills.

"What we wanted to make sure of was that we brought legislation that was ready, that was right, that did what we wanted it to do, that was well thought-out and was responsible," Noem said. "That is why you saw us introduce it on Monday."

Opponents of the bill have critiqued the rush to get the bills passed in the final days of the session, and the notable absence of consultation with South Dakota's tribal leaders while crafting the bills.

Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, said that while he understood these criticisms, it would have been "unreasonable" to expect the package earlier.

"It's our job as legislators instead of to critique the process, recognize that this is within the process and to take a look at the policy," he said.

House Minority Leader Rep. Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls, disagreed. In a Thursday morning news conference before the bills' floor votes, he said, "The process that these bills have gone through leads to distrust in government."

Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said he was "greatly offended" by the bills' process, and that "some of us were left out of the puzzle."

Noem said at a news conference Monday, "I’m well aware that some of our leaders are not in favor of pipeline, although we should all be in favor of it being peaceful." Her office's legal counsel at Wednesday's hearing said the tribes were not involved in discussions because the proposed pipeline route does not go through federally recognized reservations.

Rep. Peri Pourier, D-Pine Ridge, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, agreed that the tribes don't want to see violent protests. But she said that they should have been included in talks with the governor as to how to prevent violence, and that lack of consultation with North Dakota's tribes was one of the reasons why protests broke out in Standing Rock in the first place.

"Maybe we don't need a riot boosting bill," Pourier said. "Maybe we could tackle the problem head-on at the root cause of it (instead of) just moving ahead without the people who really matter the most."