Arkansas governor vetoes mass picketing bill

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Gov. Asa Hutchinson has vetoed a bill that would have criminalized mass picketing in Arkansas.

The Republican, who vetoed the bill Thursday, commended the goal of trying to ensure public safety but said the measure's vague language would have a "chilling effect on free speech and the right to assemble."

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Trent Garner, defined mass picketing as people assembling for demonstrations at or near a business, school or private facility.

Under the bill, penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500 could have been assessed on individuals convicted of interfering with people entering their place of employment or blocking access to private residences and public roadways while demonstrating.

Hutchinson released a statement saying Garner's goal of public safety was admirable, but that the measure's definition of mass picketing was not specific enough and could lead to people's constitutional rights being impeded.

Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce President Randy Zook supported the legislation. He said the measure would have clarified and strengthened language already in Arkansas law regarding protests, so people could have safe access to businesses and other places.

Zook referenced a 2016 Black Lives Matter protest that blocked traffic for several hours in both directions on Interstate 40 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Garner said the legislation was needed to protect Arkansas residents. Garner said he hasn't decided whether to try to override the governor's veto. Only a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate, which approved the bill, is needed to override the veto.

"Hardworking people who make minimum wage should not be blocked from getting to work," Garner said.

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