SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would make protesting outside someone’s residence illegal. It would impact both the homes of private citizens and public officials.
The proposed law, sponsored by state Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) and Sen. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton), would make picketing outside of someone’s home a second-degree misdemeanor. The bill states it is intended to protect “the well-being, tranquility, and privacy of the home and protecting residents from the detrimental effect of targeted picketing.”
8 On Your Side spoke with Sen. Boyd Monday afternoon. When explained why he co-sponsored the bill, he mentioned a local public official whose home was surrounded by protesters last year.
“Our families didn’t sign up for this, our neighbors didn’t sign up for it, and there ought to be a place where you can go and expect to have kind of peaceful retreat from your day and your work. I just think your home and your neighborhood is one of those places,” Sen. Boyd said.
Some have raised concerns about the bill infringing up the public’s right to free speech.
“I think First Amendment rights are very important and I fully support protecting those and would protect them and fight to protect them even if you were saying some thing that I don’t agree with. I still think that is our right as Americans to be able to exercise that free speech, but in front of someone’s house all hours of the day and night, day after day.. I just think that is more antagonistic than it is freedom of speech and it was aimed at just getting trying to upset those around and I don’t think that is fair,” said the co-sponsor.
The ACLU of Florida sent 8 On Your Side the following statement regarding SB 1664.
“This bill is unnecessary, harmful, and costly to Floridians. Using our law enforcement to arrest and jail peaceful protestors is a waste of state taxpayer dollars. As with many laws across this country, this bill will also add to the long-standing history of disproportionate arrests of Black and Brown individuals in Florida.
“Law enforcement already has more than enough ‘tools in their toolbox’ to address harassing and disruptive conduct, trespass, nuisance or loitering.”
“Floridians do not need any more criminal statutes on the books that criminalize free speech or expand over-policing of our communities, which will most certainly have a disparate impact on communities of color. What should be most concerning about this bill is how it would be enforced and who it will be enforced against given our history of disproportionate arrests of Black and brown individuals.”
District 16 congressional candidate Martin Hyde believes there are clear First Amendment issues with the proposed law.
“Signing up for public office comes with a lot of benefits. A lot of people will give you respect, a lot of people will listen to you, but that cuts both ways. They are public representatives and the public has a right under the First Amendment to gather and to petition its government. As far as I am concerned, that is the choice you made. No one is forced to run for public office, then that is the rest that you take too,” said Hyde.
The first committee hearing passed the legislation unanimously last week. There is another hearing scheduled for February 8. If passed in both chambers, it would take effect Oct. 1, should Gov. DeSantis sign it into law.
Under SB 1664, protesters could be fined $500 and/or spend two months in jail.