State lawmakers push law to block Tucson funeral protests

2011-01-11T13:26:00Z 2011-01-11T13:43:31Z State lawmakers push law to block Tucson funeral protestsBy Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 11, 2011 1:26 pm  • 

PHOENIX — A new law designed to keep protestors away from the funerals of the six victims of Saturday's Tucson shootings could be on the books by the time the sun sets today.

Key legislators from both parties told Capitol Media Services there are more than enough votes to make it illegal to picket within 300 feet of any home, cemetery, funeral home or house of worship before, during or immediately after a ceremony or burial.

Plans are to have final votes in the House and Senate this afternoon. And an aide to Gov. Jan Brewer said she will sign the measure when it reaches her desk by the end of the day.

House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, conceded that introducing, debating and approving substantive legislation like this in a single day is "unprecedented.''

But he pointed to announced plans by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, known for its funeral protests and its signs that "God hates fags,'' to picket the funerals. The first services, for Christina Green, is set for Thursday.

"We have this vile group coming to protest the funeral of a 9-year-old girl who was just gunned down, claiming that she deserved to die,'' Adams said.

"It's disgusting, it's despicable,'' he said. "And we're going to ensure that the family could have some peace for a couple of hours while they bury their daughter.''

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said the legislation is designed to withstand constitutional challenge on free speech grounds.

She pointed out the measure does not regulate what people can say. State and federal courts have repeatedly voided laws which are based on content.

Nor does it bar picketers.

"It simply regulates the time and the place in which they can do so,'' Sinema said.

Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, said she does have some First Amendment concerns. But she said it may be the only way to shield the grieving families.

Personally, Aboud said, she would prefer a non-legislative alternative as has been done in some small towns in the Midwest where the Rev. Fred Phelps has organized similar protests at the funerals of military war dead.

"People from two to three hours away came and created human chains and protect the family,'' she said. "These protests were so far away that the family did not even hear the comments.''

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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