GREENVILLE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – A proposed picketing ordinance took center stage at this week’s Greenville County Council meeting.
The ordinance states that picketing can only take place on sidewalks and walkways, and can not be done in the middle of roads. It also lays out a list of prohibited items, including weapons, bicycles, body armor, and facial coverings unless they are being used for health reasons. The ordinance also sets limits on how large a person’s bag can be, unless it is a clear bag. Violators could face a fine of up to $500.
The ordinance was drafted after sheriff’s deputies were called to the Greenville Women’s Clinic many times for abortion protests.
“We’ve had about 300 calls in two and a half years,” Greenville County Sheriff Hobart Lewis said. “We’ve certainly taken statements. We’ve made some arrests out there. We’ve even made arrests out there on both sides of the issue for an assault.”
Greenville, Richland, and Charleston County are the only counties in South Carolina that have a clinic that performs abortions. Sheriff Lewis said Richland and Charleston County do not have the same issues that Greenville County is facing.
“Columbia and Charleston don’t have this number of protesters,” he said. “They don’t have these problems, neither one of them,” Greenville County Sheriff Hobart Lewis said.
The picketing ordinance was sent to Greenville County Council for approval this week. Several residents spoke out against it. No one spoke in favor of it.
“One simple review of the U.S. Supreme Court and South Carolina court rulings would show that the ordinance is out of bounds and, therefore, unconstitutional on several fronts,” one woman said.
“How do you avoid this infringing on the First Amendment rights of both sides?” another woman asked.
“It was never designed to keep people from protesting,” Lewis said. “It’s not a First Amendment issue. It’s not a Second Amendment issue.”
The County Council sent the ordinance back to the Public Safety Committee to be revised.
“Sending it back to public safety, I think, was absolutely great to be quite honest,” Lewis said. “It gives people a chance who want to be involved to come and talk about the ordinance and talk about the problems they have.”
Council Member Rick Bradley is on the Public Safety Committee.
“I think we need to write it [ordinance] a little clearer and make it more specific to the cause,” Bradley said. “We did overlook the constitutional fact that this is taking away some of their rights. When that was brought to my attention by the citizens, they were dead on.”