SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature passed a bill to prohibit picketing outside homes after several public officials last year saw some who opposed public health mandates protest at their private residences.
HB291 would make "targeted residential picketing" — a protest "specifically directed or focused toward a residence, or one or more occupants of the residence" — a class B misdemeanor, which is punishable under Utah law by up to six months in jail or fines of up to $1,000.
Bill co-sponsor Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, described the measure as a way of defining "what kind of society we want to live in."
"It does not favor a certain class of people such as an elected official, it does cover everyone," Vickers said.
The bill requires protesters to stay on a sidewalk at least 100 feet away from the property line of the person they're picketing against. It allows them to stay in common areas, Vickers noted. Parades and marches are exempted in the bill.
"I think we can understand the reasons for this, to protect the individual's rights," Vickers said.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he would support the bill but questioned whether it would prevent someone from picketing the governor's mansion.
Vickers said it would, but they could still picket within the boundaries defined in the bill.
"I was horrified, as I hope everyone was, when I saw what happened to (state epidemiologist) Angela Dunn's home. I was somewhat less horrified when I saw what was happening to former Gov. Gary Herbert's home in Orem and former Lt. Gov. Cox's home in Fairview. I didn't like it, but I felt like they ran for office so maybe that was fair game," Weiler said.
"I think we need to draw the lines, I just hope we don't draw them in the wrong places," Weiler said.
But Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, emphasized that "people can still picket, they just have to follow certain guidelines."
"I think this makes sense. We want to make sure people have the ability to express themselves, but it's terrifying when your children are alone and you just get a phone call, and you're trying to get home as soon as possible to deal with a constituent who may be upset," she said.
The Senate passed the bill 26-1 on Thursday. It awaits Gov. Spencer Cox's signature before becoming law.