Stop this BAD BILL from chilling public discourse and protest! (SB 173)

Ask your state representative to vote NO on SB 173!

Existing Utah criminal code prohibits the the disruption of a lawful meeting by “physical action, verbal utterance, or any other means”. However, in the wake of recent protests targeting the development of an Inland Port in 2019, SB 173 attempts to bring more ‘civility’ and safety to public meetings by creating new penalties for individuals protesting at the State Capitol or near meetings of government officials.

Under existing Utah law, it is a class B misdemeanor to “disrupt” a meeting, which requires that a person “obstruct” or “interfere” with the meeting with the intention of preventing it. This law is already problematic for its vagueness and violation of free speech.

While it is valiant that SB 173 attempts to encourage civility, this bill perpetuates vague and unconstitutional code, expands the scope of the law and increases the range of penalties. “Disrupting or disturbing an official meeting” and “engaging in disorderly conduct at an official meeting” would be punishable as a class C, B or A misdemeanor, punishable with jail time and monetary fines. Rather than encouraging civility, SB 173 would have a chilling effect on public discourse.

Simply click “Start Writing” to email legislators now. 

What would SB 173 S03 Disrupting Legislative or Official Meetings do?

SB 173 S03 modifies the criminal elements of disturbing the legislature or an official meeting and assesses the penalties for the violation of this bill by:

  • Defining an official meeting to include a wide range of meetings
  • Removing any definition of the term “disturb”
  • Criminalizing “disorderly conduct” in the presence of the legislature or other official meeting.
  • Establishing guidelines for penalty of these interruptions either as a class C misdemeanor for a first offense (punishable with up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine), a class B misdemeanor for a second offense (punishable with up to 6 months jail time and a $1,000 fine), or a class A misdemeanor for a third or subsequent offense (punishable with up to 1 year in jail and a $2,500 fine). 

Utah law defines “disorderly conduct” very broadly; the offense can comprise as little as “making unreasonable noises in a public place” with the intent of causing annoyance, or refusing to leave a public place when asked to by law enforcement. Accordingly, silent protesters who refused to leave a public hearing could apparently be covered.

(Remember to personalize your comments for the greatest impact! Why do YOU support this proposal?)

  • SB 173 would have a chilling effect on free speech and civic engagement – Our country was founded on the principles of democracy, including the freedom of speech. Speech is what allows citizens to be engaged in the civic process to address public problems. Data shows that communities with stronger indicators of civic engagement have lower unemployment rates, better physical health, stronger schools and more responsive government. However, SB 173 would have a chilling effect on civic engagement, causing people to fear speaking up and engaging in the public discourse.
  • SB 173 sends the wrong message to the public – A recent Y2 Poll shows that 62% of Utahns said their legislators pay “very little attention” or “no attention at all” to what an individual voter may think, even if the voter takes the trouble to actually speak personally with their lawmaker. SB 173 perpetuates the public perception that lawmakers do not want to hear from constituents and do not welcome public input in the political process.
  • SB 173 is unconstitutional – The participation of citizens in public meetings is essential to our democracy, even if their views are unpopular with public officials. As a general rule, the government cannot ban speech — including public protests — because of the protest’s “content,” or subject matter. SB 173 violates the First Amendment. A law is “unconstitutional” on its face if it prohibits a substantial amount of protected expression.
  • SB 173 is vague – The intentional broadness of the bill language does not provide standards for applying those terms, encouraging arbitrary enforcement against any conduct that public officials may not like. This creates an invitation to viewpoint discrimination that is unconstitutional and contrary to participatory democracy.
  • SB 173 is unenforceable – Similar laws, some even narrower, have been struck down in other states. SB 173 cannot be constitutionally enforced and simply invites expensive litigation. Instead of passing an unconstitutional law, the law should be repealed.
How to make sure your letter is successful:

  1. Use a clear and specific subject heading.
  2. Start with a salutation (“Dear …”).
  3. Be CIVIL, PERSONAL and as CONCISE as possible.
  4. Mention that you are a CONSTITUENT and include your full address with zip code.
  5. Sign your name at the end.

Write Your Letter Here

Leave A Comment

Go to Top