Your state Legislature is poised to protect the right of certain people to enjoy the peace and tranquility of their homes.
Probably not your home. Definitely not mine. But the homes of “certain” people – that’s the exact word used in the legislation. By which lawmakers mean the homes belonging to business executives, mostly. And only a few of those.
SB 469 is sponsored by state Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, but was written by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce — another chapter in the organization’s ongoing war at the state Capitol against unions.
Much of the bill is devoted to making it more difficult for unions to collect dues from paychecks. That’s a traditional battleground. It is the portion of the bill addressing public demonstrations that is novel, and has resulted in an unprecedented political alliance between organized labor and tea party activists.
SB 469 would ban the picketing of a private home that interferes “with the resident’s right to quiet enjoyment,” and charts a course for a resident to wrest financial penalties from those who cause the disturbance.
But only if the demonstration is conducted by a labor union or a similar organization.
A list of talking points from the Chamber insists that the legislation is intended to make sure that demonstrations occur in the proper places – “not where families, children, and neighbors who have nothing to do with these issues are being severely impacted.”
Publicly, the Chamber says that the legislation is anticipatory in nature, meant to discourage a future trend that has popped up elsewhere. Privately, its members have pointed lawmakers to a 2009 picketing in which a carpenters union targeted the Atlanta home of Alana Shepherd, the elderly co-founder of the well-respected Shepherd Center – whose son, James Shepherd is chairman of the board.
(A spokesman for the center, which specializes in spinal injuries, very forcefully said the clinic had no connection to the legislation.)
SB 469 sailed through the Senate earlier this month, and was the topic of a packed House hearing this week. Lawmakers assured those attending that the “right to quiet enjoyment” of one’s home wouldn’t apply to doctors targeted by anti-abortion forces, strip club owners detested by neighborhood activists, bankers who foreclose on homes, or errant members of Congress disliked by the tea party. Or journalists, for that matter. Or you.
The “right to quiet enjoyment” would apply only to business executives required to deal with unions. Or perhaps the occasional government official – a governor or state lawmaker, for instance — faced with protests from public employees.
Because Georgia is a right-to-work state, unions are perpetual underdogs at the Capitol. A coalition was necessary. Union lobbyists reached out to anti-abortion forces, with no result. They had better luck with Georgia Tea Party Patriots.
“The other side is getting a little nervous – that people like the tea party and labor are coming together. The conversation and the debate have changed,” said Charlie Flemming, president of the state AFL-CIO, which represents perhaps 170,000 workers and retirees in Georgia.
On Monday, many testified against SB 469 at a hearing held by the House Industrial Relations Committee. But the star was Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots.
Lawmakers present challenged her assertions that penalties in the law could be applied toward abortion protesters or her fellow tea partyists. But she had a bottom line beyond that.
“Labor unions, the tea party, and Occupy Atlanta – there are many issues that we disagree on. But there’s one issue that we’ve all come together on, and we’re in agreement that this bill… is an assault on our First Amendment rights,” she said. After the hearing, in an overflow room, union members gave her a standing ovation.
Bill Hembree, R-Winston, the chairman of the House Industrial Relations Committee, supports SB 469, and intends to schedule a vote in the next few days.
But even if SB 469 becomes law, it would certainly be challenged in court – where the measure’s largest problem is likely to be exposed, confirmed Sonja West, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Georgia.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld geographic bans on picketing – but has also ruled that government can’t pick and choose the reasons behind public demonstrations. The rules of protest for labor unions can’t be different from those for tea parties.
The Legislature would be better off giving everyone the right to enjoy the peace and quiet of their homes, she said – with a ban on all demonstrations aimed at private residences.
But that would require lawmakers to cap the voices of the right as well as the left.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider