Residential protest bill worries First Amendment advocates

By: - January 19, 2023 5:06 pm
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A protester holds a sign in Phoenix on Dec. 14, 2020. A bill proposed in the state legislature could put a damper on residential protests in the future. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

A Republican bill aimed at stopping protests outside of residential properties has some First Amendment advocates worried, but lawmakers say it is needed in the currently heated political environment. 

Senate Bill 1023 by Fountain Hills Republican John Kavanagh would amend the state’s existing residential picketing law to say that a person can be charged with picketing if a “reasonable person” would find their actions harassing, annoying or alarming, regardless of if the person doing the picketing intended to harass, annoy or alarm. 

Currently state law only allows for a person to be charged with residential picketing, a misdemeanor, if they intentionally engage in picketing to “harass, annoy or alarm another person.” The new law leaves out the protester’s intent. 

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Kavanagh told the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday that under the proposed bill, responding law enforcement officers would be the second “decision makers” in determining  if the picketing was “annoying or harassing.”

Kavanagh said the bill is for instances of “someone in a ski mask and (with) an iron pipe” outside your home picketing, and not a person with a “sign and a little flag.” Kavanagh during the committee hearing Thursday made multiple references to Gov. Katie Hobbs who had protesters outside her home multiple times when she was secretary of state. 

“We are watching you!” protesters shouted in one video obtained by 12News of protesters outside her home. Hobbs received multiple death threats directed at her office and at her home due to unfounded allegations of voter fraud during her tenure as secretary of state. 

“This is a highly important bill for many people in our highly polarized political society,” Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, said, adding that people protested outside her home during her campaign. 

Sen. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said she was worried about what types of protests the bill could restrict. Epstein said she worried that the bill could restrict free speech, and asked Kavanagh if she would be able to use the law against protesters she might find “annoying” because of differing political views.

“This only prohibits one type of residential picketing,” Kavanagh said in response. “Like one judge said about pornography, you kinda know it when you see it.” 

Marilyn Rodriguez, speaking on behalf of the ACLU of Arizona, disagreed with Kavanagh’s interpretation of the bill and said that many of the experiences of members, such as Wadsack, were covered by other laws and the bill would only criminalize First Amendment conduct and “result in more arrests.” 

Under the new bill, police would not have to prove that a protester  intended to harass or intimidate the person they were protesting and would be able to use their own judgment, according to Rodriguez. 

Kavanagh admitted to the committee that he held no stakeholder process when creating the piece of legislation and said he would look into removing the word “annoy” from the statute to satisfy other members of the committee. 

The bill passed out of committee on a 5-to-2 vote. 

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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