Home News Local News Bill to ban ‘targeted residential picketing’ passes House

Bill to ban ‘targeted residential picketing’ passes House

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State Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, stands behind a podium while speaking to an audience in July 2020 at the Hi-Q Venue. Ezzell and other local state representatives give their opinion on Thursday's passage of House Bill 276, a bill banning protests outside a person’s home. (Daily Record File Photo)

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Following a three-hour long discussion on the floor of the state House that touched on issues of freedom of speech and assembly, safety, privacy and an acrimonious political climate, lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill making it illegal to hold a protest outside a person’s home.

House Bill 276 (HB 276), which would make “targeted residential picketing” illegal barely made its way out of the New Mexico House of Representatives on a 33 to 31 vote. The final tally was not a partisan vote with Democrats and Republicans coming out on both sides of the issue. It next heads to the New Mexico Senate for consideration.

The legislation makes it a criminal misdemeanor offense to target an individual or household “vocally or by standing or marching with a sign, banner, sound amplification device or other means, of an opinion or message.” A misdemeanor offense, according to the bill’s fiscal impact statement, is punishable by a sentence of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

State Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, who sponsored the bill along with state Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corales, cited incidents involving Trump supporters chanting “lock her up” outside the New York home of former 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, or protesters gathered outside the home of Missouri Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley while his wife and children were inside, as examples of disruptive and potential conduct the proposal is meant to prevent.

Harper though said what prompted him to introduce the bill was an incident where demonstrators amassed outside the home of an elderly Rio Rancho couple each week to rail against a flag they were flying.

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“And I don’t think that is right. I think your home is your sanctuary and you are somewhat captive there,” he said.

Ely said the law is meant to protect the safety of individuals and families who are the subjects of protests, amid an increasingly heated political environment.

“And that’s the concern. That we shouldn’t wait until there is a death to come back and address what I think across the country is going to become a more and more pressing issue,” he said.

State Rep. Phelps Anderson, DTS-Roswell, and the only Chaves County legislator to vote for the measure, said HB 276 would provide law enforcement with another tool to protect homes and neighborhoods from protests that turn violent, such as some of those that took place across the country last summer.

Opponents though worry the law could infringe on the First Amendment rights of protesters.

“This is just one more example of, I don’t know, suppressing people’s rights that are afforded to them by our Constitution, and I am not going to do that,” state Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, said.

Others, such as state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said he believes existing laws are in place that can protect people from unruly protesters, while allowing displays of speech.

“I just have a hard time of prohibiting people’s exercise of free speech,” Nibert said. “If they cross the line and trespass and if they cross the line and assault me or they become a nuisance to me and my neighbors there are other laws that take care of those things.”

During the debate, House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said he worries prohibiting residential picketing would cause protesters to follow their targets off their property and other areas.

“I mean that puts the family in more jeopardy because they don’t have the protection of their home. And then I think it’s going to get worse,” he said.

Worries were also expressed that not only political speech but other activities, such as trick-or-treating could also be considered residential picketing under the bill’s definition. Townsend cited Christmas carolers as another example.

“I mean, somebody might protest that but I would welcome that. Therein lies the problem,” Townsend said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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