Sen. Trent Garner’s free speech-chilling bill to criminalize “mass picketing” passed the Senate today and goes to the House.
The ACLU properly viewed it as an attack on 1st Amendment rights. SB 550 would allow penalties of a year in jail for people who “hinder or prevent” work by mass picketing, “interferes” with entrances or exits or free use of roadways and other means of transportation.
It also is a crime to mass picket a residence, one qualification being that the demonstration includes “intimidation near or contiguous to the private residence.” And we’d leave to local constabulary and people like Trent Garner wha would constitute intimidation? The mere presence of protesters seems to make Trumpians nervous. The vote was 22-6.
The need for this in Arkansas was demonstrated by ??????
This is but one of the anti-first Amendment bill from Republicans this session. Kim Hammer has an even broader one that would prohibit people saying stuff that he found offensive. Republicans nationally are pressing many bills (18 by this Washington Post count) to discourage protest demonstrations and otherwise squelch free speech. They are at the same time pushing a lot of gun bills in the name of the 2nd Amendment. Not that THAT is intended to intimidate anyone. And pushing to limit 1st Amendment press rights by closing public records and access to some video records of crimes.
Garner’s bill mirrors language the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has pushed in other states for years. The U.S. Chamber hates unions and they pushed a bill in Nevada to quell demonstrations by powerful unionized hotel and casino workers there.
The bills are reminiscent of efforts in Southern states to quell demonstrations during the civil rights struggle. (Proud, Sen. Garner?) From the Post article:
Critics doubt whether many of the laws would pass Constitutional muster. “The Supreme Court has gone out of its way on multiple occasions to point out that streets, sidewalks and public parks are places where [First Amendment] protections are at their most robust,” said Lee Rowland, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
… The ACLU’s Rowland says the new bills are not about “creating new rules that are necessary because of some gap in the law.” She points out, for instance, that “every single city and county in the United States” already has laws on the books against obstructing traffic on busy roads.
Rather, Rowland says the laws’ intent is “increasing the penalties for protest-related activity to the point that it results in self-censorship among protesters who have every intention to obey the law.”
Not that a little ol’ losing lawsuit ever stopped a bad bill in Arkansas.