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New Mexico House endorses ban of demonstrations at homes

March 12, 2021 GMT
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A security fence can be seen from outside the state capitol complex during a meeting of the state legislature on Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The fence was erected as part of a series of security measures following the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol in January. State GOP leaders have asked that it be taken down. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
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A security fence can be seen from outside the state capitol complex during a meeting of the state legislature on Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The fence was erected as part of a series of security measures following the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol in January. State GOP leaders have asked that it be taken down. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposal to make it illegal to demonstrate at any specific private residence in New Mexico has been endorsed by the state House by a narrow margin.

The House voted 33-31 on Thursday to outlaw “residential targeted picketing” to protect people from harassment or being terrorized in their homes by demonstrators. The measure moves to the Senate for consideration. Earlier this week, the Idaho House of Representatives voted down similar legislation.

The New Mexico bill would make it a misdemeanor criminal offense to convey a public opinion or message outside a specific home “vocally or by standing or marching with a sign, banner, sound amplification device or other means.”

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The proposed restrictions provoked a whirlwind three-hour debate that pitted concerns about personal privacy and refuge in one’s home against detractors who worried the bill would infringe on bedrock rights to free speech and assembly.

Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the initiative is inspired by the experience of one unnamed, retired couple in Rio Rancho who were targeted by demonstrators.

His pitch won the support of leading Democrats, including state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, chairwoman of the lead House budget-writing committee.

But many Democrats and Republicans said free-speech concerns should prevail or that the Legislature should defer to local community ordinances.

Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad said she worried about unintended consequences, noting that Halloween trick-or-treat visitors could easily fall within the definition of home picketers in the bill.

GOP House Minority Leader James Townsend of Artesia made a similar point.

“I think that protecting a person’s right to freely assemble isn’t something I can vote to jeopardize,” he said. “I thought about Christmas carolers. Somebody might protest that, but I might welcome that. Therein lies the problem.”

GOP Rep. Stefani Lord of Sandia Park, a fixture at pro-gun rights demonstrations last year, asked whether the bill would prevent demonstrations outside the official governor’s mansion in Santa Fe.

Harper said the bill was likely to put the mansion and its surroundings off limits to protesters unless a gathering of public officials was underway inside.

“We’re not limiting this to one particular part of the citizenry. It is anyone who is being targeted at their residence,” he said.