A bill was recently passed in the Senate, and is waiting to be signed into law by President Obama, titled H.R.347 – Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. It is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Rooney, R-FL and was passed with 89% of votes, with only 3 nays (one of them Presidential hopeful Ron Paul) and 42 abstained votes.
The bill is being criticized by some as restricting the First Amendment because it criminalizes the act of protesting in restricted areas. It is positioned as an update of its almost-identical precedent, 18 USC § 1752 ; one difference is that H.R. 347 makes it a felony to enter or remain in a space an official is visiting even the person(s) do not know that it’s illegal. To present the bill before the President in an election year– and so soon after the uprising of the infamous Occupy movement–is reaffirming the significance of the bill’s intent.
Below is the official summary, but you can read the entire bill here at OpenCongress.org:
Amends the federal criminal code to revise the prohibition against entering restricted federal buildings or grounds to impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly enters any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. Defines “restricted buildings or grounds” as a posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of: (1) the White House or its grounds or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds, (2) a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting, or (3) a building or grounds so restricted due to a special event of national significance.
“Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity—even if that activity is annoying to those government officials—violates our rights.”