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Indiana Senate approves bill criminalizing protests outside people’s homes

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Bipartisan concerns over free speech violations weren’t enough to stop Tuesday afternoon’s approval of new protest restrictions.

By a 29-16 vote, the Indiana Senate green-lit a bill that makes it a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, to protest or picket in front of someone’s home. Police would be required to first approach protesters and order them to disperse. Arrests would be authorized only if protesters refuse to leave.

Bill author Sen. Scott Baldwin, a Noblesville Republican, said he wrote the bill in response to high-profile protests in front of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Maryland home following last year’s abortion ruling, as well as protests in front of the homes of local prosecutors. He said people have a right to enjoy the peace and security of their homes, and his bill would protect that regardless of someone’s ideology or employment.

Multiple lawmakers said the bill likely violates the First Amendment and could open up cities or counties to lawsuits. Sen. Rodney Pol, a Chesterton Democrat, spent some 10 minutes debating hypothetical scenarios with Baldwin.

“Public streets are considered a traditional public forum. They always have been,” Pol said. “What part of the street, and how is this going to apply? If we can’t answer that, I don’t think we should be passing this bill.”

Baldwin replied, “I wholeheartedly agree. But does that mean that they have the right to be disorderly or to obstruct, or to do any other nefarious thing? No, it certainly doesn’t.”

The bill drew criticism from members of Baldwin’s party as well. Sen. Michael Young, an Indianapolis Republican, said the bill’s usage of the term “intent to harass” is too vague, especially when it comes to organized protests. Recalling his experience last summer in which he was surrounded by angry protesters outside the Senate chamber, Young said, he would have no problem with protesters gathering outside his home if they were protesting a decision he felt right. Young was one of seven Republicans who voted against Baldwin’s bill.

“I just don’t want to be in a position to take a right that’s in the Constitution and say you can’t protest your elected officials,” he said.

The bill now moves to the House.