Wednesday, September 20, 2023–10:02 a.m.
-David Crowder, WRGA News-
Attorneys for the City of Rome have drafted an assembly ordinance which was presented to the city’s public safety committee on Tuesday.
According to Assistant Rome City Attorney Frank Beacham, a permit would still be required if an assembly has 25 or more participants. Fewer than 25 would not need a permit, with some exceptions.
“If it is less than 25, then there are four cases where you would need a permit for being on public property,” he said.
Those four cases have to deal with the location of the assembly.
“Sort of the pinch point kind of places,” Beacham said. “On our streets, on our sidewalks, or where you are blocking ingress or egress to public facilities, and on our trails. For all of these, we looked at Georgia law, and federal law, and made sure that our ordinance complies with that.”
Another component of the draft ordinance is a spontaneous event exception, which, according to Beacham, seems to be very important in case law in recent years.
Under the current permitting process, someone applies and the chief of police has four days to make a decision on whether or not to issue a permit. That process has been problematic for some cities, Becham told the committee.
“If something arises very suddenly and there is a groundswell of need to protest, then a local government is required to have an exception built into the process,” he said. “So, our exception, based on a case from Santa Monica, California, is that a spontaneous event, which is occasioned by news or affairs coming into public knowledge less than four days prior to such event, may be conducted on the city hall lawn or grounds without the organizers first having to obtain an assembly permit.”
The discussion regarding the issuance of permits for demonstrations began in June when four members of a local Republican splinter group were arrested while protesting Rome’s Gay Pride festivities. Police stated that the group was not only demonstrating without a permit, but they also refused to disperse when asked to do so by an officer.
During the July 10 Rome City Commission meeting, Commissioner Mark Cochran asked for guidance from the city attorney’s office.
“It’s hard for me to swallow that you need a permit to express your 1st Amendment views on a public sidewalk,” he said.
The draft ordinance also includes definitions of public and recreational property, since that is where most protests occur.
The Rome Public Safety Committee took no action regarding the draft assembly permit during their Tuesday meeting, opting for more time to study it.
You can read the draft ordinance below.