Saturday, April 21, 2012

How Big a Deal is H.R. 347, That “Criminalizing Protest” Bill?

Posted by Gabe Rottman, Washington Legislative Office at 11:56am 
 
Recent days have seen significant concern about an unassuming bill with an unassuming name: the "Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011." The bill, H.R. 347, has been variously described as making the First Amendment illegal or criminalizing the Occupy protests.

The truth is more mundane, but the issues raised are still of major significance for the First Amendment.
It's important to note — contrary to some reports — that H.R. 347 doesn't create any new crimes, or directly apply to the Occupy protests. The bill slightly rewrites a short trespass law, originally passed in 1971 and amended a couple of times since, that covers areas subject to heightened Secret Service security measures.

These restricted areas include locations where individuals under Secret Service protection are temporarily located, and certain large special events like a presidential inauguration. They can also include large public events like the Super Bowl and the presidential nominating conventions (troublingly, the Department of Homeland Security has significant discretion in designating what qualifies as one of these special events).
The original statute, unchanged by H.R. 347,made certain conduct with respect to these restricted areas a crime, including simple trespass, actions in or near the restricted area that would "disrupt the orderly conduct of Government," and blocking the entrance or exit to the restricted area.   READ MORE

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