City Expected to Approve New Rules for Protesters at the Airport

City Council this week is expected to approve a new set of regulations for people who want to stage demonstrations and protests on City property, including at the Airport, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

The Free Speech Coalition has been fighting the city's restrictive policies on the requirement for permits, charges, and the involvement of the Police Department in protest demonstrations for nearly a decade.

But the issue exploded last year when organizations opposing President Trump's proposed ban on travel to the U.S. by residents of several mostly Muslim nations staged protests at airports across the country, but the groups were not able to stage a demonstration in San Antonio due to the red tape the city's requires to permit protests.

The proposed new ordinance will set up 'Free Speech Zones' at the airport, and will cut down the lead time needed to apply for a protest permit from 30 days to two days, and give the City's Aviation Director the option of waiving the lead time altogether.

The proposal also specifically says the 'Director shall exercise no judgement regarding the purpose or content of the proposed activities, and shall exercise no discretion over the issuance of a registration permit hereunder. It being the intent of his division that the issuance of a permit by the Director, shall be a routine, clerical, and mandatory function.'

The proposal also lessens the role of the Police Department in issuing protest permits. The Free Speech Coalition was concerned that the Police Department was in charge of determining who can and who cannot stage protest demonstrations.

"The City of San Antonio supports our citizens' freedom to exercise their constitutional rights of free speech, as long as such activity does not interfere with the safe and efficient operation of the San Antonio Airport System," the new ordinance states.  

The new law does include restrictions, including first requiring permission from the Aviation Director, limiting protesters from blocking concourses, harassing passengers, or interfering with airport operations.

It also allows officials to move the protesters to a more reasonable location, as long as they remain within view of passengers. The rules also prohibit protesters from affixing signs to the airport walls, carrying signs which are larger than two feet by three feet, or using sticks to carry signs.

There is also wording in the new ordinance that will make it easier and cheaper to stage non commercial protest marches through city streets and at City Hall.

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