DENVER – A bill that would increase penalties for tampering with oil and gas equipment cleared second reading Monday in the state Senate.
The adoption came after an amendment was approved that stripped a portion of Senate Bill 35 that would have increased the penalty for obstructing, interrupting or interfering with oil and gas equipment.
The section was the primary point of contention for the Democratic minority because of the broad application it could have.
“It could be a totally innocent individual whose, let’s say truck, breaks down in a road and you’re potentially interfering with or delaying the operations of that oil and gas well,” said Sen. Steven Fenberg, D-Boulder.
Democrats also expressed concerns over the precedent the unamended bill would have set by giving special protections for the oil and gas industry.
“What a terrifying, awesome power we are giving to oil and gas operators here if they choose, in cooperation with their local district attorney, to make felons of anyone who dares to attempt a protest,” said Sen. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village.
“That’s not the intent of the bill. The intent of the bill was to protect those communities where you actually change the valve or do something that can potentially (cause) catastrophic events,” said Sen. Jerry Sonneberg, R-Sterling and sponsor of SB 35.
GOP members maintained that the bill was not an attempt to infringe on First Amendment rights, but during debate refused to back down on the wording.
“It’s unfortunate that so many people have so little faith in our law enforcement that they think they are going to go crazy by prosecuting something they haven’t prosecuted before,” Sonneberg said.
With the most contentious portion of the bill stripped, it is unclear what reception the bill will receive if it moves to the Democratic-held House.
Sonneberg said support by Democrats for protection of private property and public safety means there is reason to be optimistic.
“Obviously section one didn’t see much opposition so I anticipate pretty good response (in the House),” he said. But even with the amendment concerns remained over scope of the issue; only one individual has been convicted of the charge in four years.