MLIVE: Proposed picketing ban targets protests like one at attorney general's home

In the wake of a recent demonstration at Attorney General Bill Schuette's home in Midland, a local state representative has proposed legislation that would make such protests illegal in Michigan.

A group of about 40 people gathered outside Schuette's home Wednesday, July 6, to protest and demand the attorney general take action against the Enbridge Line 5 crude oil pipeline, which crosses the Straits of Mackinac.

The 63-year-old pipeline crosses the straits west of the Mackinac Bridge. It has been surrounded by controversy in recent years because of what a spill could do to the Straits of Mackinac and the Great Lakes in general.

The group Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, together with Earth First!, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's protests.

Schuette's office labeled it "a cowardly attack" and "an outrageous attempt to intimidate and bully" the attorney general's family and the people of Michigan.

No arrests were made by police officers responding to the incident, who said protesters "dispersed peacefully."

A bill introduced last year in the Michigan House of Representatives would make such a demonstration illegal in Michigan, and allow large fines be assessed to the organizations and individuals involved, according to its primary sponsor. 

Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Larkin Township, said he initially introduced House Bill 4643 in May 2015 at the request of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Glenn represents Michigan's 98th District, which includes the city of Midland as well as other portions of Midland and Bay counties. He said the main focus of the bill is to increase fines for "mass picketing" that prohibits an employer from conducting business, but that it would also prohibit protests at all private residences.

Glenn said the demonstration at Schuette's home, occupied only by the attorney general's wife at the time of the incident, crossed a line.

In its current form, Glenn's bill would allow home and business owners to seek a court injunction against picketers on their property.

It also establishes a fine of $1,000 per person per day for anyone who violates a resulting court order and a fine of $10,000 per day for any organizations backing such a protest.

Those high fines are necessary, Glenn argues, to prevent what he calls "illegal picketing" at workplaces and private residences.

"No person or family in any community in Michigan should be terrorized in their own home, as Mrs. Schuette was, but this type of eco-terrorist mob activity by paid protesters from out of state was certainly disrupting to the usual peace and quiet of our small town environment in Midland, a quality of life it's my duty to help preserve and protect," he said.

Midland Police Lt. Mike Sokol said no arrests were made Wednesday because there was no evidence of anything that would amount to criminal vandalism and that the property owner merely requested anyone trespassing on private property be removed.

Ultimately, Sokol said, it will be up to the city attorney or prosecutor to determine whether to pursue charges against those identified as involved in the incident.

Hours after the protesters left Schuette's neighborhood, a crew from Shine Window Cleaning washed the "unknown substance" from his home's driveway.

The substance was likely intended to simulate spilled oil, according to a spokeswoman from Schuette's office.

In a statement released after the protest, the group claims an environmental coalition of over 20 environmental groups sent Attorney General Schuette a letter detailing multiple ways in which the Line 5 pipeline is operating illegally, in violation of its 1953 easement with the State of Michigan.

"Despite this, Schuette continues to delay action on the pipeline, citing the desire to wait for a risk and alternatives analysis for the pipeline to be completed, which is expected to take months to years," the group's statement read.

That statement ends with what some consider a veiled threat, posed as a quote from a Michigan resident named "Frida" participating in the protest who "commented on the escalation of tactics" related to conducting the demonstration at Schuette's home.

"If public officials continue to threaten our safety, then we will continue to threaten their security."

Calling Earth First! an "eco-terrorist group," Glenn said the protesters' actions violated trespassing, vandalism and traffic laws and that those involved should be "aggressively prosecuted."

"Mr. Schuette's wife was alone at home as dozens of protesters, she reported, pounded on her home's windows and front door so hard that she thought they might break the door down," he said.

The bill acknowledges that the types of picketing it would ban does not apply to any protests authorized under either the U.S. Constitution or the Michigan Constitution.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states there will be no law abridging "the right of the people peaceably to assemble."

The Michigan Constitution of 1963 also sets forth citizens' basic right to assembly:

The people have the right peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, to instruct their representatives and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

But Glenn argues that "time and place" restrictions on public assemblies have historically been upheld by federal courts.

He argues that demonstrations like last week's are not "peaceful" and therefore aren't a guaranteed right.

"The mob action at Attorney General Schuette's home was not peaceful, did not comply with existing trespass, vandalism, and restricting flow of traffic laws, and did not respect the home owner's privacy and property rights," Glenn said. "That's the distinction."

Glenn's bill, referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Trade more than a year ago, has not yet been taken up by the committee.

But the state representative pointed out that the bill is cosponsored by that committee's chairman, Rep. Joe Graves, R-Argentine Township.

Glenn said he expects the committee to take up the bill for consideration later this year.

 

Original article: http://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw/index.ssf/2016/07/picketing_ban_proposed_in_wake.html