ACLU of Florida warns the proposed rules would empower law enforcement to remove individuals exercising their First Amendment Rights at the State Capitol
TALLAHASSEE, FL — The Department of Management Services (DMS), a state agency, proposed rules that will chill speech at the State Capitol during the upcoming legislative session. The proposed rules would empower law enforcement to remove individuals and cite them with criminal trespass for engaging in peaceful protest in and around the Capitol buildings, including the fourth-floor rotunda and the Capitol Courtyard.
If passed, the proposed rules would allow law enforcement to trespass anyone in “Buildings in the Florida Facilities Pool” – broadly defined as the interior of the buildings as well as the “curtilage” of the buildings and the adjacent state-owned lands –who “creat[es] a disturbance that is likely to impede or disrupt the performance of official duties or functions of public employees or officers.” It leaves police to predict the future and unconstitutionally allows them to remove people based on purely speculative harm. According to this rule, a “disruption” could be any “interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity, process, etc.”
These rules would allow for suppression of speech when “an individual or group is causing a disturbance that is likely to impede or disrupt the performance of official duties or functions of employees or officers working in the building or is likely to disrupt or prevent access by members of the public,” including sounds that make a “loud or unusual noise.” These laws violate the First Amendment by also prohibiting “visual displays, sounds, and other actions that are indecent.”
Kara Gross, legislative director of the ACLU of Florida, responded with the following:
“The proposed rules as written are unconstitutionally overbroad and vague and would chill a vast amount of speech protected under the First Amendment. This is the latest attempt by Florida’s elected officials to censor speech and silence viewpoints they disagree with under the false pretense of protecting children. We all want to protect children, and these rules do nothing to further that interest. In fact, they may result in greater harm to Florida’s youth by enabling Capitol police to censor viewpoints in support of LGBTQ+ youth and families.
“The proposed rules give Capitol Police unbridled discretion to determine which speech is permissible and which can be censored. With such discretion, officers can eliminate any expression they disfavor while permitting expression that supports their personal views—or those of the public employees working in the affected areas. This viewpoint discrimination is not permitted even in a nonpublic forum.
“Additionally, the breadth and vagueness of the proposed rules will chill protestors from gathering and expressing their views out of fear they will be punished for doing so. Our democracy thrives and relies on the freedom to express dissent. While the government has some authority to regulate speech in nonpublic forums, the proposed rules exceed the bounds of that authority.
“Despite the state’s consistent attempts to stifle speech, Floridians know the power of their voices. These rules will not silence them from exercising their constitutional rights.”
View our written testimony is here: https://www.aclufl.org/en/aclu-fl-written-testimony-rule-hearing-propose...