Florence nonprofit opposes local bill to address city's protest guidelines

The bill was introduced in February 2021.

Posted: Mar 29, 2021 4:42 PM
Updated: Mar 29, 2021 5:56 PM

A Shoals group says a local bill limits what they can do as protesters and activists.

Senate Bill 152 introduced by Sen. Tim Melson only applies to his districts, and basically, it gives municipalities the ability to limit protest zones and even charge more fees for protest applications. Activists say this bill infringes on their rights.

"It tries to specify how many people can come. It makes us pay fees for police where we can go. There are so many ways they are restricting our First Amendment rights in so many ways. I think it's unconstitutional," said Florence Activist Camille Bennett.

Bennett and her nonprofit have been protesting the removal of the Confederate monument outside of the Lauderdale County Courthouse. In the last year, they've stepped up their efforts to weekly protests. She feels Senate Bill 152 was filed to try and stop their efforts.

"I definitely feel like it's retaliation for our protests that have been going on now for 10 to 11 months," said Bennett.

Melson said this bill merely gives better guidelines to cities on protests and rallies, and protects First Amendment rights of citizens.

He said, "With all the demonstrations, rallies, and marches across the country during the past year, based on the feedback I have received, some of the municipalities in Lauderdale and Limestone Counties needed better guidelines on how and where to permit events. The bills filed for Lauderdale and Limestone Counties just followed best practices put in place by other cities across the valley. It is important that we protect the First Amendment rights of our citizens to peaceably assemble and express their free speech rights. The bill also provides guidelines for local municipalities as to where and how they may choose to issue permits and whether or not they choose to close off public streets from traffic. It allows businesses to be able to operate and serve their customers without confusion related to where and how rallies are permitted and what is considered public property."

Bennett said she thinks this bill would deter people from letting their voices be heard, by allowing more restrictions.

"It's subjective to the officers, so they can say we're violating this law or that law, so protesters are forced to make these tough decisions," said Bennett.

Traditionally in Montgomery, it is rare for lawmakers to vote against a local bill. Senate Bill 152 has made it out of committee and through the Senate, where it now goes to the House. Bennett said if this bill becomes law, they are prepared to take legal action to challenge it.

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