A Lancaster County citizens’ group is calling out a state senator with billboards on Route 283.
The large red signs, near the Landisville exits in both directions, read “Keep Free Speech Free, Say ‘No!’ to Senator Scott Martin #STOPSB323.”
A line at the bottom of the billboards reads “Paid for by Lancaster Against Pipelines.”
Martin introduced the legislation referenced in the signs — Senate Bill 323 — in February. The bill would allow for the recovery of “emergency response” costs from individuals convicted of felony or misdemeanor crimes while participating in protests.
Martin’s memo explaining the legislation said past pipeline demonstrations in Lancaster County, while peaceful, resulted in an estimated cost of more than $70,000 to state and local taxpayers.
“[O]n multiple occasions, protestors using lockdown devices had to be surgically extracted costing a considerable amount of taxpayer resources and occupied emergency responders for hours,” the memo said.
Mark Clatterbuck, a founding member of Lancaster Against Pipelines, said Martin’s legislation is an attempt to chill free speech and would affect more than just pipeline protesters.
Clatterbuck, who was charged with trespassing at a pipeline location in 2018, noted existing laws cover property damage and making threats.
“This is designed to target peaceful protests,” he said.
Clatterbuck declined to divulge the costs of the billboards.
In a statement, Martin called the group’s characterization a “blatant distortion” of the intent of his bill.
“An individual could only be held liable for response costs if they are convicted of committing a crime in relation to a protest,” Martin said. “Every citizen has a right to free speech and assembly, but nobody has a right to cause damage to another person’s property, create a dangerous situation for community residents and first responders, or create an expensive mess for someone else to clean up.”
Martin said taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for damages or cleanup and that he believes the bill strikes a balance between protecting free speech and taxpayers’ financial interests.
Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said the bill was “flatly unconstitutional” and would not withstand legal scrutiny.
Randol said there are already mechanisms in place to hold convicted persons liable for related costs, but “it would be unconstitutional to hold someone — even those convicted of protest-related offenses — liable for costs associated with other people’s actions or costs incurred to provide collective public safety support at a demonstration.”
The bill is pending in the Senate State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon).