Congress Infringing on First Amendment Rights with HR347?

Well, this is alarming. This bill just passed unanimously in the Senate, and nearly so in the House:

This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011’’.

RESTRICTED BUILDING OR GROUNDS.
Section 1752 of title 18, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
§ 1752. Restricted building or grounds (a) Whoever—
(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so; (2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions; ‘‘(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds; or ‘‘(4) knowingly engages in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds;
or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
‘‘(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a)
is—‘‘(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for
not more than 10 years, or both, if—
‘‘(A) the person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm; or ‘‘(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118(e)(3); and‘‘(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case.

‘‘(c) In this section—‘‘(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area— ‘‘(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds; ‘‘(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or ‘‘(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance; and ‘‘(2) the term ‘other person protected by the Secret Service’ means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum, when such person has not declined such protection.’’.

At first glance, this seems like a fairly innocuous bill. However, the sections in bold are what concern me. Though suspiciously vague, it seems as though this is another bill written in response to very specific events, without any consideration for the broader implications. Though this time, the legislation passed, with overwhelming support and with little media attention.

Those who have taken note of the bill, are speculating that this could make protesting illegal, especially at events like Party Conventions and UN summits. I’m inclined to agree, given the sections that I’ve highlighted in bold.

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Ron Paul: Trying to Take Away Constitutional Protections since 2004.

It’s no secret that Ron Paul is no friend to human rights (except perhaps to Ron Paul fans) but Paul’s We The People Act is mind-blowing in its blatant hostility to the rights of women and LGBT people.

From Mother Jones:

“Paul’s “We the People Act,” which he introduced in 2004, 2005, 2009, and 2011, explicitly forbids federal courts and the Supreme Court of the United States from ruling on the constitutionality of a variety of state and local laws. That includes, among other things, “any claim based upon the right of privacy, including any such claim related to any issue of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction.” The bill would let states write laws forbidding abortion, the use of contraceptives, or consensual gay sex, for example.”

After some blathering about Congress’ authority to limit the jurisdiction on the Judicial branch, and how everyone agrees with the notion that the Judicial branch has exceeded its power, the legislation says this:

“The Supreme Court of the United States and each Federal court–

      (1) shall not adjudicate–
        (A) any claim involving the laws, regulations, or policies of any State or unit of local government relating to the free exercise or establishment of religion;
        (B) any claim based upon the right of privacy, including any such claim related to any issue of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction; or
        (C) any claim based upon equal protection of the laws to the extent such claim is based upon the right to marry without regard to sex or sexual orientation; and

(2) shall not rely on any judicial decision involving any issue referred to in paragraph (1).”

The notion of “state’s rights” has long been code for “the right of states to discrimination freely against large segments of their population” but this legislation is abhorrent. Apparently, the concept of “checks and balances” is far beyond this man.

With this legislation, the states would become separate, autonomous entities, protected from reproach, and its people exempted from the protections of the Constitution when it comes to:

1. Women’s rights to reproductive freedom–explicitly when it comes to birth control and abortion.

2. LGBT rights to exist, let alone the freedom to have sex with or marry whomever they want.

3. The establishment of a theocracy.

Paul truly wants to take us back to the days when the Constitution only applied to straight (white) Christian men.

This man has the nerve to continually accuse President Obama of over-stepping the boundaries of his Constitutional authority.

Mind blowing.

Note: This bill was introduced nearly a year ago, has no cosponsors, and hasn’t gone anywhere since. To which I say: good riddance, but I thought it important to highlight, especially for those who claim Paul is a lover of freedom.

Another Lesson Learned From Occupy

Though this legislation died in committee, it highlights just how important it is to pay attention when state legislatures and Congress react to very specific events like Occupy Wall Street:

via Mother Jones:

“The bill, SB 1534, would make it a felony to use “electronic communication to solicit two or more persons to commit [a] specific crime at [a] specific time and location.” The punishment could include up to 5 years in prison and a $125,000 fine.”

Commenter John Ford summarizes, so aptly, just why this legislation is A Bad Idea:

“But committing a crime isn’t necessarily a felony. Setting aside that it is ill-advised AT ALL, but making it felony to conspire to commit what might only be a misdemeanor is just….stupid. And dangerous. But mostly stupid. “

Many times, what happens when legislatures legislate in response to very specific events is they fail to consider the broader applications of the law they are considering. This will happen especially when they have very negative feelings toward whatever it is they are reacting to legislatively–namely here, the Occupy movement. The reaction may well be extreme, as it is here, making this action a felony.

Whatever one’s feelings on Occupy, or whatever event that will inspire legislation next week, month, or year, legislation like this will affect everyone. In this case, Oregon would have felt the immediate impact–but state legislatures play copycat like nobody’s business. This legislation would certainly, had it made it to the floor, been duplicated in other states. It’s vital that everyone pay attention. Also vital, is that state legislatures know that we are paying attention.

Proposed Changes in the House of Representatives.

It has come to my attention that Speaker-elect, John Boehner, has also proposed changes, but to the House of Representatives rather than the Senate. Below is the summary of changes that Boehner would like to make, from the New York Times:

Mr. Boehner seeks to do away with large omnibus spending bills, preferring to break them into smaller bills, and to allow for more amendments on bills generally, and more extensive debate.

Members offering bills for new programs will have to explain how they will pay for them, not by raising new revenues but by finding other ways to cut costs. Each bill introduced will also have to cite the specific constitutional authority for its contents.

For the first time under the House rules, all bills will be required to be placed online. Committees will post their rules and their votes, as well as information about testifying witnesses in an effort to make public any conflicts of interest.

In an unusual grab of budgetary power, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee will be able to unilaterally set limits for categories of domestic spending until a budget resolution is passed this spring, as a budget enforcement measure. …

… Before bills are marked up — a sacred practice that allows lawmakers to change the content of bills — three days’ notice must be given, also to stave off dark-of-night revisions.

The health care repeal and the tax cuts are not subject to these new rules. Which I find interesting, considering that these two things number among the Republicans highest priorities.

I do appreciate the effort to put pending legislation online. This will allow any interested party to see exactly what legislation says–and frankly, I’m surprised this hasn’t been done before. This takes away the considerable power of politicians and media to frame the debate among the public. There will be many, of course, that will still rely on media and politicians to summarize legislation for them, but political junkies everywhere are almost salivating in anticipation, I’m sure.

Breaking up budgetary bills would have been a very good idea, but the increased ability to add amendments cancels out any benefit we might have gained from it–because the problem with the annual budget bill was the excess of amendments, many having nothing to do with spending, added onto the legislation. Adding a requirement that any spending bills must specify where and how it is to be paid for would also be a good idea, IF the exclusion for raising new revenue were excluded. Of course, the exemption for the health care repeal and the tax cut bill are noteworthy, indicative of the Republicans willingness to make exceptions to their own rules for themselves. It does not bode well for the Republican House majority.

Get Your Activism On: Changing the Rules.

The other night, Rachel Maddow, on her show, addressed the rules and regulations for filibuster in the United States Senate. Currently, it only requires one Senator to filibuster, and that Senator does not have to remain on the Senate floor, or even in the Senate chamber. He or she can filibuster, then go off to dinner and home for the week, delaying any vote on a piece of legislation. I believe this is important to highlight—not just because the Republicans have filibustered any legislation that has come across their table in the past two years, but because procedurally, this does not make sense.

Senators were elected to do a job. They are being paid, by our tax dollars, to do a job—represent our voice in the chamber, and by passing legislation that the country needs to be passed, or not passed, as the case may be. We do not pay them to stand up and say “I don’t want to vote on this, I’m going to block this vote, and go home to sit on my butt.”

Rachel had Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon on her show. He is trying to change these rules. Not only to keep the Senate running and thereby ensuring the Senators are doing the job we are paying them to do, but to force Senators who do want to filibuster to remain on the floor. To keep individual Senators accountable, so that the public may see who exactly is holding up the Senate’s work, and who is actually doing the job we are paying them to do. After all, we elect no one to do nothing—we elect them to do something—to pass legislation, or not. We elect our representatives to VOTE. Whether that be to vote for or to vote against something, we elect them to do something. That something is not holding up the Senate and all the important business it has to attend to.

Read the whole of Senator Merkley’s proposal to change Senate procedures on filibuster here. Contact your Senator to encourage them to help Merkley, and to vote to change the procedure. Find your Senator and his/her contact information here. If you have time, contact Senator Merkley to thank him for undertaking this effort, and encourage him to continue fighting for this change.

I thought, like I’m sure many others did, that Senators had to be in the chamber, at the very least, to initiate and continue a filibuster. That the current Minority Party has been doing nothing but filibustering, even on legislation that they agree with, has angered me. But now, knowing that they don’t even have to expel any effort to hold up the Senate? I’m even angrier. I have to wonder, had this issue been brought up before the midterms, and the Majority party made a big deal of it, (that is, that Senators don’t have to be present to continue a filibuster) would the midterms have turned out differently? We’ll never know, but it’s something to note. Anyway! Read the proposal! Contact your Senator! It would only take a simple majority to change the rules!