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Could bill make it legal for motorists to kill?

Misunderstood bill ‘does not give motorists right to target,’ Kempenich says

Pioneer Editor |

Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman

There’s a bill floating around the North Dakota legislature that was suggested to give motorists the right to freely run over people on North Dakota roadways.

Rep. Keith Kempenich was one of seven legislators who introduced the bill, but he said last week that it’s very misunderstood.

“You never could do that. You can’t intentionally do anything to hurt somebody,” Kempenich said in an interview with The Pioneer.

The first draft of House Bill 1203 states that, in spite of any other provision of law, a driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing traffic on a public road may not be held liable for any damages.

The wording stunned people around the nation; some agreed with the bill while many others found it appalling.

But Kempenich, a Republican from Bowman, said it’s being amended and would not give people the right to purposefully hit somebody when they block traffic.

“You’ve still got to see and avoid,” he told The Pioneer.

But there were also groups of people who believed the bill would take away individual freedoms granted to them by the U.S. Constitution, notably the right to assemble and protest.

“People are thinking that you’re trying to take somebody’s right away from them,” he explained. “(There’s) no intent on that; (there) never would be.”

The crux of the issue found itself related to the recent protesting over the Dakota Access Pipeline throughout last year in Morton and Burleigh Counties. Protestors frequently took over highways and bridges, bringing traffic to a halt.

Many motorists echoed frustration for the delays.

“It is what’s been going on,” he said. “There have been instances where people have come up and challenged vehicles on the road.”

In its infant state, the bill basically requires pedestrians to yield to motor vehicles, as Kempenich explained. But it shifts the responsibility from the motorist to the person initiating the action.

“If you’re driving down the road, you’ve still got to see and avoid an obstruction,” he clarified. “If somebody though comes up, you’ve got to be slowing — it’s got to be an unintentional accident.”

Kempenich declared it had to be unintentional, with motorists still needing to take precaution to avoid any incident.

The representative claimed social media was to blame for distorting the bill’s meaning.

“It’s still a see and avoid. And that’s where the conversation has broken down,” he said.

No vote has been held on the bill, which is still being discussed in committee.

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