City passes new laws to regulate political protests, rallies

Lorena Gonzalez

FILE – In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, speaks at rally calling for passage of her measure to limit when companies can label workers as independent contractors, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Gonzalez said Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, that she intends to ease the law’s restrictions on freelance journalists and others after months of protests that it is already costing people their jobs. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (AP) — A northern New York city with frequent political gatherings adopted new regulations to govern protesters after several months of review.

The Glens Falls Common Council passed the local law Tuesday. The legislation regulating protests was proposed by the council last year in response to a growing number of political gatherings including climate, second amendment and protests and counter protests about immigration.

One rule in particular remains under scrutiny by some members of the community: the allowed distance between opposing protest groups.

The original changes to the city code were first drafted in September and put the required distance between protesters at 30 feet (9 meters). After consulting with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the distance was reduced to 8 feet (2.44 meters), which has previously been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Several residents at the meeting expressed concern that the 8-foot distance was not enough to keep agitated protesters on either side from harassing each other. People recounted the use of a bullhorn in close proximity by pro Trump supporters and the shouting of obscenities at participants of a women’s march. The only self-identified Trump supporter at the event said he felt his pro-Trump group had faced plenty of verbal harassment from the other side as well.

Fifth Ward Councilman Jim Clark said after the vote that he is discouraged that some of the uncivil political discourse at the national level has spread to the city, the Post-Star reported.

Despite the earlier consultation with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Capital Region director said at the meeting that the organization does not endorse the latest version of the law. She cited vague regulatory language and said the city has allotted too much time — 14 days — to grant or deny a permit request. She added that the city adopted a universal permitting process that would kick in for groups of 25 people or more with no exceptions for spontaneous demonstrations, against the organization’s recommendations.

Others described the impact that political gatherings are having on downtown businesses and that music and horns can be heard from inside.

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