A bill that would effectively criminalize union picketing was passed by the Georgia Senate Insurance and Labor Committee Tuesday. “Conspiracy to commit criminal trespass” was demoted from being a felony to being a “high and aggravated” misdemeanor, but the bill, written by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, retains elevated penalties for broadly defined violations including pickets that “constitute a threat to obstruct or interfere with the entrance to or egress from” businesses, private residences, and more, and picketing of a residence that has the effect of “interfering with the resident’s right to quiet enjoyment.” Mind you, this only applies to unions and other labor organizations.
Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson opposes the bill, writing to its sponsor, state Sen. Don Balfour, that, among other things:
…this bill poses the potential to further overburden an already stressed prison system and would divert badly-needed resources away from protecting Fulton County’s residents. […]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 and, in the process, setting us up to face potential lawsuits that would ultimately be paid for by taxpayers.
Finally, I believe this bill serves no useful purpose in fighting crime.
Martin Luther King III was among speakers at a press conference opposing the bill Thursday, noting that opposing this bill is an extension of his father’s work.