Citizens Rally, Speak Out against SB 469
(APN) ATLANTA — On Saturday, March 17, 2012, over forty organizations and two thousand citizens gathered at the State Capitol to “kill the bill.”
SB 469–which as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, would make protesting on private property an aggravated misdemeanor, carrying steep fines and prison time–has drawn opposition from Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson; Martin Luther King, III; US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA); Rev. Joseph Lowery; the Teamsters and other union groups; Occupy Atlanta; and a growing list of community organizations.
Even the Atlanta Tea Party opposes the bill. “When we’re talking about the First Amendment of the US Constitution, we’re not talking about political right-versus-left. We’re talking about right versus wrong,” Julianne Thompson, Georgia State director for the Tea Party Patriots, told the Huffington Post. “If it’s a violation of free speech we’re going to be on the side of the Constitution. I’m happy that we’ve reached across party lines with regard to this issue.”
Many believe SB 469, sponsored by State Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), was drafted to destroy the unions and Occupy Atlanta that are presently camped in front of AT&T midtown headquarters. But instead of killing its target, it has expanded the movement to include many veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, Tea Party activists, and community leaders and organizations.
SB 469 seeks to intimidate working families and silence those who call for economic justice, and sets steep penalties for act of protest.
“Today we stand up and speak out to fight for good jobs, free speech, and human rights, and against partisan and radical attacks,” Charlie Flemming, President of the Georgia American Federation of Labor-Council of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) said at Saturday’s Capitol rally.
Flemming listed some of the problems Georgians are facing today. “People are losing their homes to foreclosure, others can’t retire because their pension funds tanked, our children are burdened by student loan debt, unions are being denied collective bargaining rights, our neighbors are being poisoned by pollution in our air and water,”
“This is the result of rampant greed, deliberate manipulation of our economy by the one percent who amass wealth and power at our expense,” Flemming said.
“SB 469 is government interference at its worst. A bill that seeks to intimidate and criminalize Georgians for speaking out for economic justice. It would interfere with your ability to join and support a union. The Georgia Legislature is out of touch. Instead of creating jobs, they are busy making laws attacking hard working Georgians and our middle class,” Flemming said
It is ironic SB 469 is being championed by politicians who say they oppose government interference, yet they want to interfere with people’s ability to speak out for economic justice and to support unions.
“We are becoming a hateful state when we pass legislation that will hurt working families, public employees, women, and unions. I will vote no on SB 469. Let’s work on job creation, health care for everyone, providing education for children,” State Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth) said.
“I have been in the Legislature for sixteen years and I have never seen such hateful legislation. Not only SB 469 but so much legislation that is anti-poor folks and anti-women,” State Senator Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said.
“I am here to oppose SB 469. This bill intends to completely take our voice away. As an undocumented student, I would not be able to march and rally for the Dream Act, that is desperately needed. Civil disobedience plays a crucial role in the effort of undocumented youth to let our voices be heard and raise awareness to the millions of undocumented youth. We have already been unjustly treated with hateful legislation such as HB 87 and SB 458,” Nayeli Quezada, a student at Freedom University and a member of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, said.
“There are forces in America who want to take us back to another period when you won’t have a right to organize and engage in collective bargaining,” US Rep. Lewis said.
Many individuals who spoke questioned the rationale and sanity of wasting time and money on legislation that will only further hurt Georgians who are already suffering from high unemployment and joblessness in Georgia.
It will also cost Georgia taxpayers an untold amount of money to fight this bill as it undergoes Constitutional challenges.
The energy and opposition to SB 469 continued Monday, March 19, as citizens attended the Industrial Relations Committee Hearing on SB 469.
State Rep. Roger Williams’s (R-Dalton) office called this APN reporter on Monday morning to state that the House Industrial Relations Committee hearing on SB 469 had been cancelled.
Williams’s office had received the information from an email from State Rep. Bill Hembree (R-Winston), Chairman of the Industrial Relations Committee.
When APN arrived at the Capitol, this reporter checked the House announcement board and it showed an agenda change that the Industrial Relations Committee would he hearing SB 447, not SB 469.
However, all that information turned out to be false because, in fact, the Committee did hear both SB 447 and SB 469 that day.
Some people who work at the capitol said that it was not unusual for meetings to be cancelled and then rescheduled on the same day and time. Others alleged that SB 469 was drawing so much attention that Republicans deliberately put out misinformation to confuse people and reduce the number of those attending.
Yet, the misinformation did not eliminate the attendance, as an overflow room was opened to accommodate all the people opposed to SB 469. A number of Capitol Police were in the room with other police outside in the hall.
Activists delivered a petition by Martin Luther King, III, with over ten thousand signatures in opposition to SB 469 to the Industrial Relations Committee. It is rare for King III to get involved in current political issues.
Activists also made Sheriff Jackson’s letter to Sen. Balfour available to Committee Members. “The role of law enforcement shouldn’t be to police free speech but the intent of this bill seems to be just that by targeting only protests dealing with labor disputes. You are putting police officers in the difficult position of silencing the voices of Georgians,” Jackson’s letter stated.
Dissent is fundamental to who we are as a Democratic society and it runs throughout our history from the Boston Tea Party, the Suffrage movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist movement, the LGBTQI movement, the peace movement, and the environmental movement, to the Occupy movement, many who testified said.
“All the increased penalties will apply to everyone in the future. Members of this legislative body called us and warned us about this bill. You will be making criminals out of Tea Party activists, labor unions, Occupy Atlanta, and people exercising their First Amendment rights. There are poison pills in this bill,” Debbie Dooley with the Tea Party Patriots said.
The fines for high and aggravated criminal trespass are one thousand dollars per person for each day of the violation, and ten thousand for each organization for each day of the violation. One can also be charged for conspiracy to commit criminal trespass.
“I know you say this bill limits picketing to labor disputes but there is no language is subsection B that limits it to labor picketing. In section 5, relating to criminal trespass, it applies to all applications of criminal trespass in every circumstance which is overwhelmingly protest situations. I do not agree this bill is limited to labor picketing and if it were, it would be unconstitutional. Section C create an anomaly in Georgia law; it eliminates the showing of irreparable harm for obtaining an injunction,” Elizabeth Abbleby, an attorney who represents the AFL-CIO of Georgia, said.
“In sections 3 and 4 the issue of whether or not the State can intrude in regulating the issue of dues check off for union members and the revocation of that membership is a question already settled under Georgia law and national law. Other sections are vague and overly broad,” Abbleby said.
“Mr. Chairman, the penalty of conspiracy to commit murder has a minimum penalty of one year in jail. So we could be putting people in jail longer for conspiracy to commit criminal trespass for exercising their First Amendment rights than for conspiracy to commit murder,” Appleby said.
“Mr. Chairman, you are very emphatic that this law only targets labor disputes. Laws that single out labor disputes was [sic] ruled unconstitutional over seventy years ago. The case is Thornhill v. Alabama,” Sara Amis, a college professor and Occupy Atlanta member, said.
At the end of the meeting, everyone put a sticker across their mouth which said: No to SB 469, Justice, or Free Speech.
Some politicians believe the bill will pass because it is a Republican bill and they are in the majority. Republicans typically do not vote the merits of each bill, but rather vote as a herd.
The Industrial Relations committee did not vote on SB 469. Their vote is expected at some time today, Wednesday, March 21. If the committee votes yea, the bill would then go to the House Rules Committee for a vote, then to the full House for a vote, and finally to the Governor for his signature. If he signs, it would become law but likely also face legal challenges.