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SB 469 Would Make Civil Disobedience a Felony in Georgia

(APN) ATLANTA -- SB 469, an anti-union and anti-protest bill, would turn nonviolent civil disobedience into a felony punishable by imprisonment for one year and a fine of ten thousand dollars for organizations and one thousand dollars for individuals.   It also has provisions intended to weaken unions.

The bill was introduced by State Reps. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton), Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), and Ross Tolleson (R-Perry).  All four Senators are members of an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC).  ALEC bring corporations and lawmakers together to draft template legislation that is introduced in other states to change policy.   ALEC claims to be nonpartisan but is funded by several right-wing thing tanks.

"In a state which lays credible claim to being the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, State Senators Don Balfour, Ross Tolleson, Bill Hamrick, and Bill Cowsert have just demonstrated palpable disrespect for Georgia’s rich history of protest and activism.  They are the sponsors of Senate Bill 469 which, had it been law in 1960, would have made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, John Lewis, Joe Beasley, Minnie Ruffin, and many other luminaries of the Civil Rights Movement into felons," Sara Amis of Occupy Atlanta, wrote in a blog post.

"The way they are handling these extreme bills like SB 469 prohibiting protest which they know is unconstitutional, but they want to send a message and try to throw everyone off track,” Larry Pellegrini of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit, told Atlanta Progressive News.   

“In addition, they have from the beginning of the Session been looking like they want to find Constitutional challenges and actually pass bills that they know are unconstitutional but to use them as a way to overturn federal law,” Pellegrini said.  

Many people believe the legislation, which was introduced on February 21, 2012, is a reaction to the February 13 sit-in at AT&T's midtown headquarters, where twelve people were arrested for criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor.  Since the arrests, Occupy Atlanta and various unions have maintained about twenty tents in front of AT&T.

The bill was assigned to the Insurance and Labor committee which held a hearing on February 28.  The hearing room was filled to capacity with overflow in the hall.  Ninety percent of the attendees were union members and the rest from different organizations.

"SB 469, I believe, would have the effect of trying to intimidate working families, especial those involved in labor protest activities such as picketing and sit-ins.  I think this is part of a much broader effort to weaken our middle class.  It is part of a model piece of legislation that comes from ALEC.  SB 469 could grant preemptive injunctions preventing working families from protesting against unfair labor practices.  Georgians have the right to peacefully demonstrate on public property about unfair corporate practices like when corporations use their profits to send local jobs overseas," Charlie Flemming, President of Georgia AFL-CIO told the committee.

"Governor Deal wants to reduce the number of folks incarcerated around nonviolent crimes and drugs, but on the other hand we are saying we want to lock people up and make them felons if they protest or picket," Flemming said.  

Elizabeth Appleby is an attorney in Georgia who has practiced law for 34 years with a large part of her practice in constitutional law and represents the AFL-CIO in Georgia with 170,000 members in unions throughout Georgia.  They oppose SB 469 in its entirety.  

"My evaluation of SB 469 is that it interferes with the constitutional right of free speech, the First Amendment, and right to peacefully assemble.  It seems to impermissibly place the free speech rights of some individuals in the hands of other private citizens and corporations, giving them a sword with an over-broad criminal statute, elevated fines and punishment, and injunctive tools unique to this bill that will have the effect unconstitutionally of stifling people's right to speak out," Appleby testified.  

"It violates the first amendment and the right to protest.  It actually makes it illegal for groups or organizations to protest it stifles freedom of speech and expression.   This bill is just un-American," Calvine Rollins, President of the Georgia Association of Educator, said.

"People I know voted for you folks because they thought you were for less government, but this is big government run amok for a few.  I will be in every church I can in south Rockdale County telling them what somebody is trying to do to Christians.  Christians in here [on the committee] not letting us exercise what we all hear about on right-wing radio every day, let’s go back to the Constitution," Chuck Styles, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said.

"If this bill had been in effect one hundred years ago, the only people who would be free today would be White adult males.  Blacks and women would not have the right to vote; children would still be working themselves to death; we would not have the forty hour work week, the eight hour work day, and other benefits.  Many of the organizations I work with demonstrate and picket, and if this bill had been in operations four or five years ago, I would already be in prison for life," Minnie Ruffin said.  

Many other people spoke in opposition to the bill and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce spoke in support of the bill.

The entire room chanted "Kill the bill."  

The Committee amended the bill by striking felony on page 129 through imprisonment on age 131 and inserting high and aggravated misdemeanor.  State Sen. Chip Rogers missed all the testimony but returned to vote against the bill.  The bill passed as amended.

Two occupy folks were detained and one arrested as they "mike checked" the room as people were leaving.

"They have not fixed the bill, it is still very flawed and a violation of Georgia law,” Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, told APN.

“The bill creates a conflict in Georgia criminal code.  You can be charged now with criminal trespass or you can be charged with conspiracy to criminal trespass but you can't be charged with both.  In the current Georgia criminal code, if you are charged with conspiracy to commit criminal trespass or any other misdemeanor you can't be charged with more than the sentence of the crime.  Conspiracy to commit a crime can not be charged at a higher rate than the actual commission of the crime.  SB 469 will allow you to be charged with both and it sets a higher penalty than the current law does.  It is adding higher punishment for exercising first amendment rights," Seagraves said.

"It requires the Court to grant an injunction against someone for demonstrating, picketing, or protesting, and it does not require the compliant to show harm.  This is a major change in law," Seagraves said.  

"While this bill appears to be an anti-labor bill, the restrictions, the enhanced penalties, and infringement of First Amendment rights will apply to everyone in Georgia.  This can lend anyone open to enhanced penalties, large fines, and potentially imprisonment for exercising their First Amendment rights," Seagraves said.


Comments (14)

Jack Jersawitz
Said this on 3-1-2012 At 08:26 pm

The lesson should be clear. Time is running out.

In the White House you have a president who asserts a right to designate individuals and organization as terrororists and to have them killed without due process; that president elected in large part with the help of the labor movement and, yes, even some folks who call themselves socialists.

I don't see why the Georgia legislature even sees a need for this bill. All they need to do is call the White House, i.e., the murderer and war criminal Obama, and assert to him that we all are terrorizing the community and Obama will send in the Justice Department who will convene and tell a grand jury a bunch of lies and get us indicted. Alternatively they will just throw us in some remote cell and forget about us.

In short we are quickly making the transition to a police state, to a fascist state, and a labor leadership devoted to the "friends of labor," Democratic or Republican, got us here.

What is necessary is for the rank and file union members to take up a fight for the creation of an electoral labor party who will run for office on a socialist program with the spoken intent of expropritaing the banks, large industries like AT&T, auto, etc. thus insuring no layoffs but as well the sanctity of the huge workers pension funds they hold.

Also needed is the establishment, in the interest of theoretical and tactical guidance, is a Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist party. An example can be found at httP:// where you will find the International Committee for the Fourth International and also the British section and their daily newspaper The News Line printed on real paper and distributed throughout England. There you will find three or four daily stories and a daily editorial.

You will find there the truth about Greek working class, let alone French, English, and other countries opposition to the IMF, European Bank, and the attempts to make the workers pay for their bailout.

Jack Jersawitz


Said this on 3-1-2012 At 08:30 pm

Definition of a Misdemeanor of a High and Aggravated Nature
Like a regular misdemeanor, a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature can only carry a sentence up to 12 months in jail. However, if you receive a jail sentence, the maximum good time credit you can get per month is only 4 days. In other words, in a month with 30 days, you will have to do 26.

Fines can be as high as $5000.

Said this on 3-5-2012 At 11:52 am

I can tell this article is slanted heavily since there's no mention of specifics, or of the actual wording of the bill, just a lot of "It would be bad" and "Republicans are evil!"  I don't know anything about it, and if I took your word for it I would be against it, but the extreme slant and lack of real information on the bill makes me wonder what you are hiding.  Perhaps it's not nearly as bad as you make it out to be, and you are using it to attack the GOP?  I will research and find out on my own.

Said this on 3-5-2012 At 09:57 pm

go ahead and look it up. it's bad.  in fact, here's the link. occupy atlanta has been posting it everywhere:

only problem you should have is maybe reading it, but if you believe in america, our constitution, and free speech, no one should make thi a partisan issue.  the government is overstepping onto the people's rights.  if we don't push back,who will?

Russell Spornberger
Said this on 3-7-2012 At 10:22 am

Hey Robert,

Ben posed a legitimate question, so why go immediately, or why ever, go ad hominem?  Your comment "...only problem you should have is maybe reading it" accomplished nothing but turning people away...


Russell Spornberger

Bob of Newton
Said this on 3-25-2012 At 01:40 pm

I believe that even the Tea Party id opposed to this bill

Said this on 3-26-2012 At 09:56 pm

It's gratifying to hear the Tea Party is against it. They usually support more government intervention in favor of the big corporations who provide their funding. I've always found it extraordinary that people who claim to oppose large government want so much government control of  peoples' lives. 

Said this on 3-5-2012 At 02:08 pm

My God! I'm actually reading this bill, and it's like Wisconsin all over again, except Gov. Deal also wants to silence any voices of dissent that may arise from the anti-labor provisions. I absolutely agree that  Deal saw what happened to Walker in WI and is trying (using unconsitutional means, I may add) to avoid his fate. Then again I can't envision either the U.S. Supreme Court, nor the Georgia Supreme Court having the guts to overturn this law. The courts are all packed with GOP partisans.

Said this on 3-8-2012 At 08:10 pm

I am a college student Georgia Gwinnett College and worry about our campus becoming a place where students could not peaceably protest without the fear of being carted off to jail.

Shame on you, Senator Balfour. I have met you in person several times and have respected you for your work on behalf of Georgia Gwinnett College. You have now lost my vote.

Eldrich McMihanon
Said this on 3-9-2012 At 11:29 am

I get so tired of people bantying "peaceful protest" about.  So throwing a brick at the Vine City protest was peaceful?  Ok, how about the kid who spraypainted on a bank's front doors... peaceful, sure, but destruction of property.

I really wish you guys would quit living in make believe land.  These guys are not peaceful and they're not nonviolent.  They destroy property.  They could have killed someone with that brick.  All the other things they have done are at best wasting someone else's money to clean it up, and at worst could kill people.

They just don't make it so public that they're throwing bricks and vandalizing things.  It doesn't mean they're peaceful and nonviolent if they say it.  They have to actually be it, and believe me, they aren't that.

Doesn't anyone keep up with the police rags anymore?  Anyone can see that one of their own was arrested for throwing a brick during the Vine City protest, but does anyone look or consider that?  Time to take off the rose colored glasses.

Said this on 3-14-2012 At 02:06 pm

To the claim that this legislation will result in a "felony", that is incorrect as per the bill that passed the State Senate and found here:

At the very bottom, it spells-out the 'crime' and it is a misdemeanor and never reaches the level of a "felony."

"(d)(1) A person who commits the offense of criminal trespass shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
(2) The provisions of Code Section 16-4-8.1 notwithstanding, a person may be convicted of both conspiracy to commit criminal trespass and the completed crime of criminal trespass, in which event such separate crime of conspiracy shall be a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature."

"Misdemeanor", even of a 'high and aggravated nature' is NOT a "felony."

Said this on 3-14-2012 At 09:33 pm

I would urge all freedom , loving patriots to unite to pass ballot access to eliminate some of these traitors to the Constitution, like Mark Hamilton, & his political trick just utilised when SB 377 failed, & push for a paper trail on the electronic voting machines, as the law requires, & conveniently ignores, before its too late to even change any of the TPTB pols in either party, then revisit your property rights being made into privileges under Sonny's HR 1306 that even Doug Stoner voted for to help out the developers, then we all cannot be "hanged" at the same time; there is strength in numbers for liberty! Soon the Internet will not be available to unify the public, thanks to both parties!

Ralph Raul
Said this on 3-20-2012 At 09:09 pm

The introduction of this  bill if anything has brought parties that would never have joined together, i.e tea party and labor unions to demonstrate their opposition to such legistation.

It is uncounsious that these State Representatives would introuduce a Bill, crafted by a Union busting law firm as is the Firm for whom Attorney Cliff Nelson is a partner in, and seek its passage.

This is a direct attack on our constitutional rights. Never mind those alledged instances of brick throwing which are clear crimes and try to justify such a Bill as this one. The fact remains that had this been law forty years ago many civil rights leaders, of all races I may add, would be imprisioned and criminals!

Congratulations to all four Representatives, particularly Bill Cowsert (Athens) which is closest to my distric. I will make every free minute available I have and reach out to friends, family and stranger alike in support towards any opposition you may have in your next elections, a time where I would have normally voted my choice and kept quiet. No more!

Said this on 4-19-2012 At 12:10 am

OKAY THIS IS CRAZY too many VIOLENT OFFENDERS are walking because the prisons and jails are backed up iwth NON VIOLENT offenders!!! I feel that the state of GA and the world are trying raise kids in a glass house on a sinking floor...if you do not let them gauge themselves they will never learn for themselves. I feel if people want to sit in the heat or tie themselves down and hold SIGNS AND NOT START trouble or riots they have that right as it is a 1st admendment. NOW on the other hand if they are trying to pick a fight with passerbys or throwing BLOCK party noise level sit in or pickit lines then yes it should be broken up and if violence is taken towards the police then they deserve above but instead of locking them in a jail....put them on their own house arrest...with just an area of 100ft from home THAT WAY they are in jail but CITIZENS do not have to pay for them and their stupidty.

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