The Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill with stiffer criminal penalties for those who damage or try to damage the state’s critical infrastructure.
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, introduced House Bill 1633, which would make it a felony in Illinois to destroy or damage such critical facilities as power generators, water treatment plants, transportation networks or mining operations. Businesses, organizations or other groups who sponsor or fund the perpetrators would also be penalized.
Although the bill ultimately passed the House with a solid majority, it initially faced opposition on several fronts.
One objection was that as originally written, which included “trespassing” as an offense, the law could be used to squash legal protests by environmentalists, community activists and others. Similar legislation, for example, was passed in the wake of the South Dakota pipeline protests.
A second issue was that of including vandalism as a crime, because the bill could mean harsh penalties, for relatively minor offenses such as vandalism.
Third, some of the opposition feared that the broad definition of critical infrastructure – which includes everything from nuclear power plants to communications facilities – could basically have the entire state meeting the designation.
“I agree with some of the critics that it went too far,” Hoffman said
He said the bill was changed to make clear that it is in no way designed to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights to assemble and protest. He also said that it is not intended to zero in on casual trespassers or vandals, and that judicial discretion is built in. Third, he noted, the bill defines critical infrastructure as indicated by the federal government during the Obama administration.
While protecting rights, he said, the bill also was needed to address safety concerns.
“It was an initiative that was brought to me by business and labor, the AFL-CIO as well as the Illinois Manufacturers Association to make sure that anybody who attempts to damage critical infrastructure, whether it’s gas lines, electrical lines or the like, that they would be held accountable,” he said.
House Bill 1633 is now in the Senate, where it is sponsored by state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort.