A state senator introduced a bill on Thursday morning that would make speaking on the behalf of a terroristic group a criminal offense.
Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, authored the legislation that would establish a new provision under the crime of Aiding an Offender, if passed by state lawmakers. The bill comes in direct response to the vandalism that destroyed a dozen research labs at the University on April 5.
The Animal Liberation Front, an international animal rights group, claimed responsibility for the vandalism and for taking more than 100 animals from two research facilities. Members of ALF carry out the raids anonymously.
The Senate will debate the bill sometime next week, Kleis said. It may also be amended to another piece of crime legislation.
Kleis said that of the legislators he has spoken with, no one has opposed the bill, and he is confident it will pass.
According to the bill, any person who advocates, promotes and claims responsibility for a terroristic act after the fact would face gross misdemeanor charges. The maximum penalties for such an offense are up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
“I just want to make sure that we send a strong message and a deterrence that this kind of activity is not tolerated in Minnesota,” Kleis said.
Additionally, a civil liability provision in the bill could force the individual found guilty of the charge to pay three times the actual monetary damages and attorney fees.
University officials estimate damages from the vandalism to total more than $2 million.
Cynthia Gillett, a veterinarian and director of the University’s Research Animal Resources, stood beside Kleis as he explained the bill at a news conference.
She said she supports any action that would stiffen penalties for perpetrators of vandalism at research labs.
Kleis said his proposal directly targets individuals like Kevin Kjonaas, an ALF spokesman. The senator said he believes Kjonaas should serve time in jail for openly supporting the vandalism on behalf of ALF.
Kjonaas, a political science senior, has repeatedly said that he does not belong to ALF. He volunteers for the North American Animal Liberation Front press office in Minneapolis.
Members of ALF who carry out raids contact the offices through anonymous e-mail messages. A lawyer works with the press office to make sure the volunteers know their legal rights prior to speaking out in support of the actions.
Kjonaas said he is not too worried about the bill even if the state Legislature passes it.
“The Constitution speaks for itself,” he said.
Kjonaas said the press office does not “incite” violence or know the identities of the vandals, as some suggest.
Kleis said if the bill passes, the new statute will not target protesters from groups like the Student Organization for Animal Rights who support ALF’s cause.
“I’m a strong believer in free speech,” he said. “But for organizations that take responsibility for violence and criminal activity — that is not tolerated.”
University Police Sgt. Jo Anne Benson said investigators will press federal charges if they are able to find the vandals. If the bill under debate passes, it would not go into effect early enough to press charges pursuant to the new statute.
“I don’t know if it’s going to hold up constitutionally,” she said.
She said there is not enough evidence to arrest any individuals who have spoken on behalf of ALF. Benson said investigators are still following a number of leads.