YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

New law limits protests near schools

Legislation makes it a misdemeanor to create a disturbance on or next to an elementary or middle school campus if it threatens students.

August 04, 2011|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento -- The display of graphic photos of aborted fetuses outside a Rancho Palos Verdes middle school in 2003 resulted in outrage, a years-long court battle and now a new state law.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed the legislation that makes it a misdemeanor to create a disturbance on or next to an elementary or middle school campus where the action threatens the physical safety of students.

Violators of the law, which takes effect Jan. 1, face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

The governor signed the bill "because he agrees with the Legislature that it should be a crime for people to create disruptions … that could threaten the safety of children," spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford said.

Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) wrote the measure in response to the incident in which billboard-sized images of fetuses were mounted on a truck and driven on the streets around Dodson Middle School.

"Because of the disturbing nature of the photographs, some students at the scene became angry, some began to cry and others stared while standing in the street, creating a traffic safety hazard," Mendoza said.

But AB 123 divided the Legislature. Opponents,  including Assemblyman Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita), worried it might result in the erosion of free-speech rights.

The governor's action comes three years after a federal court found that the 1st Amendment rights of antiabortion activists were violated when they were ordered by school officials and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies to stop circling the middle school.

Robert Muise, an attorney for the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, the group that staged the 2003 demonstration, on Wednesday called the law "meaningless."

"If they pass this in a way to prevent … peaceful demonstrations on public streets, they are not going to win that fight," he said, adding that the demonstrators had not acted in a way intended to threaten students.

Los Angeles Times Articles