Florida activists fight to retain right to petition at shopping centers
by mrickard, Fri Apr 06, 2007 at 09:12:33 AM EDT
Freedom of speech is under attack in Florida where current bills in the House and Senate are threatening to restrict citizens from voter registration activities and leafleting around shopping centers, parking lots and other commercial property.
HB 233 attempts to reverse years of case law affirming that shopping malls have "quasi-public" status and would allow commercial property owners to have law enforcement officers charge anyone engaging in these types of activities with trespassing - a criminal offense.
The language in HB 233 is extremely generalized to give business owners blanket authority to ban any type of activity on their premises, including activities currently protected under the 1st Amendment.
There are no standards to define the circumstances covered, so individuals could be banned for wearing T-shirts with a political slogans business owners found objectionable, for example. It would also allow business owners to discriminate between groups, based on their personal beliefs.
Florida's shopping centers and commercial spaces have become the 21st Century town squares where community members can interact and share ideas.
Several related bills have been introduced by Republican State Senators. SB 736, introduced by Sen. Steve Oelrich, allows employers, owners and their agents to discriminate against persons or groups engaging in any type of activity they deem detrimental to business. SB 1920, introduced by Sen. Mike Fasano, bars citizens from engaging in activities related to petition initiatives outside commercial property, strip malls and shopping centers SB 900 introduced by Sen. Bill Posey bans paid signature gatherers.
Florida residents should call their Senators to object to these bills, which would limit free speech. Florida ACORN is working to stop these attacks on 1st Amendment rights.
Florida ACORN is working on this issue.