Groups oppose legislation to criminalize protests in front of private residences

Credit Michelle Wirth/WABE News

From Tea Party Patriots to members of Occupy Atlanta, several groups that are normally on opposing sides of the political spectrum joined forces Thursday. At a spirited rally in front of the Capitol, the groups spoke out against controversial legislation that would make it a crime to protest in front of private residences.

Protesters shouted “we own the dome” to let lawmakers know they disapprove of Senate bill 469, which puts constraints on picketing. Georgia Tea Party Patriots state coordinator Debbie Dooley says the legislation violates free speech rights.

“Innocent protesters that are exercising their first amendment rights will be hauled off to jail, because this bill is open for interpretation.”

But waffle House executive and republican bill sponsor Senator Don Balfour says the bill protects private property rights without violating the first amendment.

“I think their home is their castle. If you want to protest someone’s business you have every right to, but their home should be off limits.”

Balfour says similar legislation has passed in several other states, and he believes it would withstand a court challenge. The legislation has already gained Senate approval and is currently before the House. Governor Nathan Deal would not commit to signing the bill if it passes.  But when asked whether the legislation is needed because existing laws already deal with peaceable assembly, Deal had this to say to WABE.

“I’m very well aware of those arguments. Sometimes you deal with competing constitutional rights, and those are the most difficult to ever resolve. I’ll just see what the general assembly does with that bill.

Under the legislation, individual violators could face fines of up to $1000 a day.