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Home picketing ban clears first hurdle

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County Commission hears First Amendment concerns

Bernalillo County commissioners agreed late Tuesday to accept introduction of a proposal that would ban picketing outside a person’s home.

The ordinance, co-sponsored by Commissioners Maggie Hart Stebbins and Debbie O’Malley, is expected to come back for final approval in October.

Introduction came over the objection of Commissioner Wayne Johnson, who raised First Amendment concerns. Laws against trespassing and harassment are sufficient to protect people from demonstrations, he said.

“Once we start dictating where people can protest, it’s a short step to what they can protest,” he said.

Supporters said the measure was reasonable and would simply match an ordinance already in place within Albuquerque city limits.

O’Malley said people who live in the unincorporated area are “entitled to quiet enjoyment of” their homes.

The picketing issue surfaced this month after an anti-abortion protest was held outside the North Valley home of a doctor.

Supporters of the county proposal, however, said they weren’t targeting protests on that particular topic.

Regardless, Albuquerque has been the site of numerous anti-abortion protests in recent weeks. Activists are pushing for a city ordinance that would prohibit almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. They have gathered petition signatures, and the measure is likely to go before voters in November.

County Attorney Randy Autio said the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld picketing ordinances like the one introduced Tuesday.

The proposal would make it illegal to do any “picketing focused on and taking place in front of or next to a particular residence, without the express prior consent of the occupant(s).”

People could still protest in neighborhoods if they are walking through to distribute handbills, Autio said. Or they could protest outside a business.

“This ordinance doesn’t restrict picketing in any other manner,” Autio said. “It’s solely focused on protecting the sanctity of the home.”

The commission heard testimony from about a dozen people. Supporters said the North Valley protest terrified the doctor’s family and was a form of intimidation. Opponents said the anti-abortion protest was peaceful and protected by the First Amendment.

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