Gov’s Crackdown On Protests Gets Pushback

Alaska Beacon
    Opponents of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposal to criminalize un-permitted street protests and other activities that block passage through public places said it is unconstitutional, too vague and too broad to become law.
    If Senate Bill 255 or its companion, House Bill 386, is passed into law, certain types of protest could be counted among the state’s most serious crimes.

Protesters with the Just Transition Alliance gather in front of the Capitol Thursday. (Photo by Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)

    Dunleavy has said the bill is aimed at increasing public safety. It would impose penalties for blocking highways, airport runways and other public places if it causes significant risk of physical harm or interference with emergency response efforts.
    But its critics said it would also infringe on their civil liberties in a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on Thursday.
    Kay Brown, a former state representative who lives in Anchorage, criticized the bill for lack of clarity and said it criminalizes constitutionally protected behavior.
    “I think it is an attempt to intimidate, dissuade and discourage people from assembling,” she said.
    Patti Saunders, a former lawyer from Anchorage, said she is certain that lawsuits would be the result if the bill were passed and that the Legislature should account for the costs.
    “This is guaranteed litigation. Absolutely guaranteed somebody is going to get arrested, and somebody is going to sue, because this violates the Constitution. I don’t know how much it’s going to cost, but it’s going to cost a lot because it’s going to go all the way up to the Supreme Court,” she said. “So put that in your fiscal note.”
    Morgan Lim, an advocate with the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Alliance, said the bill is an example of government overreach and that it threatens Alaskans more than it protects them.
    “Vague and overly broad laws can be applied selectively by law enforcement against parties engaged in disfavored speech. There is no way for the state to neutrally apply this bill,” Lim said, adding that the bill appears to criminalize homelessness.
    Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, illustrated what he said was a weakness in the bill’s construction with a pointed question to a state attorney.
    “The City and Borough of Juneau does not have any code or regulation that allows its snowplow drivers to plow snow on the sidewalks,” he said. “When they plow my sidewalk in, do I sue the city snowplow drivers in their personal capacity for $10,000 each, or their professional capacity as city employees?”
    His point was well taken by audience members who snapped their approval from the back of the room.
    But the bill found support among some lawmakers in a House Transportation Committee meeting the same day.
    Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, called the bill simple and straightforward.
    “We don’t want to limit anyone’s freedom of speech, or right to assemble,” Vance said. “And this bill, in my mind, in no way does that. But it puts everyone on an equal playing field that says that their right to get from where they need to go, from point A to point B, is not going to be obstructed.”
    Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said the bill looked like a solution seeking a problem and was concerned about the lack of public support, but Committee Chair Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, said it is preventative, and acknowledged a “fine line” between protecting the rights of travelers and protesters.
    “Blocking roads, which seems to be the protest du jour these days, where they line up along the Glenn highway and all lock arms so you can’t drive past… I get their point. But what about the people who also have rights to get to work, to go pick their kid up from school, to get in an ambulance and go somewhere? So where did their rights collide and what can we do to make it easier for both of them to accomplish their goals?” he asked.
    They moved the bill on to the House Judiciary Committee, with Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, the sole vote against. The Senate Transportation Committee will take the Senate version of the bill up again next Monday.
    The two bills have generated dozens of opposition letters from the public, mostly concerned that their First Amendment rights are in jeopardy.
    Just that morning, protesters had a permit to shut down the street outside the Capitol for a rally to demand climate action. If the bill were law, their activities could have been punished severely if they lacked a permit.
    Elaine Schroeder, a Juneau resident and longtime activist, said the bill is a “frightening” attempt to curtail freedom of speech.
    “It is a possible step to much more restrictive laws that would eventually totally shut down citizens’ voices,” she said.
    She gestured to her fellow protesters, holding signs in the sun: “This is a way for your average citizen to have their voice heard.”

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June 2004 

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Edna Revard is enjoying a much-deserved vacation: she and youngest son Joe are in Italy visiting her older son, Jack, his wife and child. Jack is with the military, stationed in Italy. Edna will be gone a month, the crew at Revard’s Restaurant says.


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