MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers signed into law a bipartisan proposal Wednesday making it a felony to trespass or damage oil or gas pipelines in Wisconsin, a measure that opponents said would violate free speech rights and disproportionately affect Native Americans whose lands are often affected by pipeline projects.
Evers said he had problems with the bill but signed it anyway.
"I have said -- and reaffirm today -- that our Tribal Nations deserve to have a voice in the policies and legislation that affect indigenous persons and our state," Evers said in a statement. "I expect that moving forward members of the Legislature will engage in meaningful dialogue and consultation with Wisconsin's Tribal Nations before developing and advancing policies that directly or indirectly affect our Tribal Nations and indigenous persons in Wisconsin."
The new law builds upon a 2015 state law that made it a felony to intentionally trespass or cause damage to the property of an energy provider. The bill Evers signed expands the definition of energy provider to include oil and gas pipelines, renewable fuel, and chemical and water infrastructure.
Those found guilty could face up to $10,000 in fines and six years in prison.
The measure has broad support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, organized labor unions, utilities, the state chamber of commerce and a variety of trade groups representing farmers, restaurants, the paper industry and others.
Supporters downplayed its intent, calling it the fix to an oversight from the earlier law.
Opponents included the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Sierra Club.
Opponents argued at a public hearing in September that they weren't advocating for violence, but were concerned that the proposal would unnecessarily escalate penalties for activities that are already crimes and possibly ensnare people who didn't realize they were protesting on private property.
Nine other states have similar laws, according to Greenpeace, which opposes the legislation.