Sunday, 25 March 2012

First Amendment

As usual the mass media is AWOL on a very important state level attack by a Conservative controlled legislature on constitutional rights. This one involves a new bill (SB 469) by the Georgian state legislature which was given second reading on March 13th, 2012 in the State House. This legislature has moved very quickly through the legislative process – the Georgian State Senate gave first, second and third reading as well as passing the bill between 29th February and March 7th of this year- and seems to be destined to be passed into law before the full intent of this bill is understood. You can read the bill in its entirety here and the introductory summary is below:

“To amend Chapter 6 of Title 34 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to labor organizations and labor relations, so as to provide that certain provisions prohibiting mass picketing shall apply to certain private residences; to provide for an action to enjoin unlawful mass picketing; to provide for punishment and penalties; to provide for injunctive relief; to provide for public policy concerning refusal or decision to withdraw from a labor union or employee organization; to provide for certain contract and agreement employment rights; to provide for the development by the Department of Labor of employee rights information; to provide certain posting requirements by private employers; to provide for enforcement; to provide for changes to agreements and contracts permitting labor organizations to deduct fees from employees' earnings; to amend Code Section 16-7-21, relating to criminal trespass, so as to provide for both criminal trespass and criminal conspiracy; to provide for punishment and fines; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.”
In plain English this bill eviscerates the first amendment rights, freedom of speech and right of peaceful assemble. The bar is very low. Anyone who “engage(s) in mass picketing at or near any place, including private residences, where a labor dispute exists in such number or manner as to obstruct or interfere with or constitute a threat to obstruct or interfere with the entrance to or egress from any place of employment or the free and uninterrupted use of public roads, streets, highways, railroads, airports, or other ways of travel, transportation, or conveyance” or has the “effect of interfering with the resident's right to quiet enjoyment” is guilty of “a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature" which translates as a felony conviction of up to one year and “subject to a civil fine of $1,000.00 for each day of the violation.” Although the wording specifically refers to a labor dispute, it can be construed as applying to any peaceful assembly such as an Occupy event which has any of the subsequent effects stipulated in the above quotes since the prohibition applies to “An employer or other person or entity that is the target of an activity prohibited under subsection (a) of this Code section.” The bill which was a reaction to the Occupy Atlanta sit-in at the ATT&T Atlanta headquarters on Feb. 13th and introduced a week later is designed to deal with a potential American Arab Spring.

The bill’s sponsors i.e. State Representatives. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton), Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), and Ross Tolleson (R-Perry), are all members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). From Wikipedia:
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a politically conservative501(c)(3) nonprofit policy organization, consisting of both state legislators and members of the private sector, mostly representing corporations. ALEC's mission statement describes the organization's purpose as the advancement of free-market principles, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty. Among other activities, the group provides a venue for private individuals and corporations to assist politicians in developing what it considers model laws serving the economic and political aims of its members. ALEC also serves as a networking tool among state legislators, allowing them to research the handling and "best practices" of policy in other states.

ALEC currently has more than 2,000 legislative members representing all 50 states, as well as more than 85 members of congress and 14 sitting or former governors who are considered "alumni". ALEC also claims approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector members. A list of ALEC leaders in the states includes 73 Republican lawmakers and 7 Democrats.

The chairmanship of ALEC is a rotating position, with a new legislator appointed to the position each year. The current chair of ALEC is Noble Ellington, a former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. Day-to-day operations are run from ALEC's Washington, D.C. office by an executive director and a staff of approximately 30.

The Georgia initiative is a test case and it is hoped (my conclusion) to roll out equivalent state legislature nationwide this year with the silence of the mass media and the preoccupation of the public with the 2012 national election cycle.

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