The state Senate is close to taking up legislation that will set conditions before large events on the Statehouse grounds can be issued permits.
The bill’s sponsor State Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, said he has been concerned since competing rallies by two opposing groups turned violent last July. A Ku Klux Klan chapter and a group connected with the New Black Panthers both held competing rallies on the Statehouse grounds roughly a week after a Confederate battle flag was removed from the grounds.
General Services officials have said no regulations existed at the time that would have allowed them to reject or delay either group’s permit. Director Nolan Wiggins told senators last fall his office had been worried about potential free speech violations.
But Peeler said some of restrictions have to be in place. “I know what they were doing,” he said of last year’s decision. “But what were they thinking?”
Peeler said this particular legislation was crafted with legal issues and fairness in mind. “This is the best product we could come up with,” he said on the Senate floor this week. “It’s gone through the constitutional sifter as fine as we could sift it. I think it’s a point where the Constitution and common sense meets.”
The measure must clear the Senate by the end of this week to meet the “crossover” deadline. Any bill that does not pass either chamber before the end of the month requires a supermajority to be considered in the other. It’s rare for legislators to take up significant new bills after that deadline passes.