The City Council’s Committee on Special Events voted 7-3 to amend the city’s ordinance on permits for parades and demonstrations, after hours of testimony from 1st Amendment activists who said it would restrict their right to protest.
Voting in favor of the new rules were aldermen Marty Quinn, Scott Waguespack, Michelle Smith, John Arena, Ameya Pawar, Debra Silverstein and Walter Burnett. Voting no were Bob Fioretti, Nick Sposato and Leslie Hairston.
The ordinance establishes separate rules for parades, athletic events and public assemblies. It also increases the minimum fine for violating the ordinance from $50 to $200 (the maximum stays put at $1,000), and limits the hours for using amplifiers or bullhorns from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The fee for a parade permit would increase from $35 to $50, with a waiver of fees and insurance for “1st Amendment activities.” The changes have been two years in the making, said Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Michelle Boone. No additional parade marshals are required, and the time limit for parades remains two hours and 15 minutes.
Several aldermen and members of the public expressed concerns about a rule asking for a general description of signs and banners, worried that it would require demonstrators to disclose their messages to city.
“For a public assembly, if people show up with protest signs, that’s not involved in this ordinance?” asked 43rd Ward Ald. Michelle Smith.
“No, it never was,” said Rose Kelly, of the city’s Law Department.
47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar asked for a copy of the ordinance that tracked the changes made since it was introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration. Pawar also asked that the minimum fine remain at $50.
Acting on a concern of his constituents, Pawar had asked for language that made it clear the city would not ask for a description of messages on signs. The new ordinance is clear that such descriptions are not required, he said.
"The issues that were brought to me by my constituents were addressed," Pawar said.
During the meeting, a protestor held up a sign reading “Stop Rahm’s Sit Down And Shut Up Ordinance.” A police officer tapped her on the shoulder and pulled the sign out of her hands. Another protestor was led from the Council Chamber shouting, “We haven’t had a chance to speak! Is G-8 or NATO a parade?”
The public speakers represented protest movements from all over the political spectrum, from the Occupy movement to Amnesty International to pro-life activists who worried that the ordinance would require permits for demonstrations passing out leaflets outside abortion clinics.
“I think it’s significant that we have people from the right and the left speaking out against these restrictions,” said Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action Committee.
27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett thanked members of the audience for speaking out against the ordinance after it was drafted, creating public pressure that led to changes such as decreasing the fine.
“A lot us aldermen, we have marched and been in protests,” Burnett said. “Most of us stood against the war. We want the right to speak. We’re not going to allow anyone to take any 1st Amendment rights from ourselves.”
Before the roll call, Fioretti asked for a vote on striking Rule 9, which asks for “a description of any sound amplification or other equipment that is on wheels or too large to be carried by one person, and a description of the size and dimension of any sign, banner or other attention-getting device that is too large to be carried by one person, to be used in connection with the parade.” Failing to get the vote, Fioretti voted no on the entire ordinance.
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