HARRISBURG – Senator Scott Martin (R-13) introduced legislation today that would shield taxpayers from the financial burdens of emergency response costs resulting from unlawful activity during protests.
Martin’s bill, the Commonwealth Response Cost Reimbursement Act, would hold individuals financially responsible for emergency response costs if they are convicted of a crime during a protest or demonstration. The amount of reimbursement would be determined by the court as part of sentencing, or state and local authorities may petition the court for reimbursement of costs after a conviction.
“My goal has always been to protect the constitutional rights of Pennsylvanians as well as the interests of taxpayers,” Martin said. “I think this approach strikes the right balance between these two priorities. It only affects individuals who break the law and cause harm to others or their property, and not the individuals who are simply exercising their rights to free speech and lawful assembly.”
The legislation underwent significant changes over the past several months in order to ensure the bill did not infringe upon the First Amendment rights of protestors. The legislation will not impact protest groups or organizers, but will target only those individuals who are convicted of a felony or misdemeanor stemming from a protest event.
Martin hosted a forum for local emergency responders in May featuring officials from areas affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, which created nearly $40 million in additional costs to state and local taxpayers. Although the potential for similar protests regarding the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in Lancaster County was the driving force behind Martin’s proposal, the senator emphasized that the bill applies to all kinds of demonstrations and rallies – not just pipeline protests.
“This bill treats every group the same. If you gather for a peaceful, lawful protest or demonstration, then you have absolutely nothing to fear from this legislation,” Martin said. “This bill only targets violent and destructive individuals who use these gatherings as an excuse to cause property damage or incite violence. It applies equally to all individuals.”
The bill was referred to the Senate State Government Committee for consideration.
CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535