While we were out (get used to it; this is going to be our general intro for another few days), we caught wind that there was going to be a change in the way that the city handles public protests, especially when those protests involve private residences. Indeed, at the May 4 City Council hearing, a first draft of new regulations for protests outside of public places that might have private residences inside – you know, "mixed-use" refineries – was approved. That led some activists to wonder where exactly the complaint was coming from. Below is the rewrite of the protest ordinance that's raising some eyebrows. The city, however, insists that it is doing nothing to quell protests or picketing; it's just updating its books (some old ordinances required microfilm, and nobody is doing that anymore).
There's been some fear – justifiably – that the city was going to use its "mixed-use" BIG GROWTH paradigm to shut down sidewalk protests at businesses, especially those that are hard on their employees, those which have condos atop them. Mayor Buddy Dyer's deputy chief of staff Heather Fagan tells us that's not the case in an email: "Our ordinance prohibits picketing 'before or about any residential or dwelling unit of any person.' Essentially it prohibits, as do many municipalities, picketing directed at a particular residence. It does not prohibit picketing in a residential area, mixed use area, or any other area, so long as the picketing is not directed at one person's personal residence."
You might recall that this has been an issue with pro-life groups picketing the homes of Planned Parenthood doctors and executives, so if you're looking for what their reasoning is, it is apparent there. On our own read of the rewritten ordinance, though, there still seem to be some exploitable holes, some that might justify the concerns voiced to us by activists.
"This section shall not apply to a person peacefully picketing upon property which he owns or which he is lessee,
nor does it prohibit the peaceful picketing of a place of employment involved in a labor dispute, including a residential or dwelling unit used as a place of business,
or peaceful picketing within a place commonly used for public assembly," is one such strike-through edit we're side-eyeing. At any rate, the ordinance was due for its second hearing on Monday, May 18, but, because that City Council meeting was originally scheduled for 2 p.m. – and has been rescheduled for 10 a.m. for reasons unknown – the city will postpone the second read until the next meeting two weeks from then. Read the ordinance here: