Groups across political spectrum fight anti-picketing bill

by: Richard Elliot Updated:

ATLANTA - In one of the most unlikely political alliances in Georgia history, conservative groups, such as Tea Party Patriots, have joined forces with liberal groups, such as Occupy Atlanta, to oppose a bill that would criminalize mass picketing at or near some private residences.
 

"This should be a message to the Georgia Dome that you have managed to unite two opposing forces," said Occupy Atlanta's Tim Franzen. "We may not get together on all issues, but today, our guns are pointed in the same direction."
 
Dozens of people from both sides of the political spectrum gathered outside the capitol Thursday morning to protest Senate Bill 469. The measure passed the state Senate and could be considered by the state House on the final day of the legislative session.
 
"We're here all standing for a common cause, and that is for freedom of speech," said Atlanta Tea Party's Debbie Dooley. "That's something we can all agree on."
 
The groups object to the language in the bill which creates a ban on protests "at or near" private homes.  They believe the "or near" phrase is open to wide interpretation by law enforcement officials and judges.
 
But the bill's author, state Sen. Don Balfour, a Gwinnett County Republican, said he left it open to interpretation for a reason.
 
"You draw it too strict, and you don't give judges discretion," said Balfour.  "You draw it wider and people say you gave them too much latitude.  You have judges who wear black robes, and they can interpret that."
 
Civil rights activist Dr. Johnny Hill promised a legal fight if the bill becomes law.
 
"If it passes, without question, it will be challenged," said Hill. "It will be challenged in the higher courts.  It will be challenged perhaps in the federal courts, going up all the way to the Supreme Court."