St. Louis Board of Aldermen vote against buffer zone bill

In their final meeting of the 2017-2018 session, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Monday voted 15-9 against a bill that would establish a buffer zone around health care facilities, including Planned Parenthood.

The board perfected Board Bill 34 by a slim vote of 15-13 in February but supporters were missing votes to pass the bill at two separate meetings just before the board convened for spring break.

Four former “yes” votes did not to cast votes Monday, and four others flipped their votes.

The bill states that no one “shall knowingly enter, remain on, or create any obstruction within the driveway of a health care facility or within a public way or sidewalk within 8 feet of any portion of such facility’s driveway during the facility’s posted business hours.”

The bill, modeled off of legislation in Colorado, would have increased safety around health facilities by creating an 8-foot buffer zone around driveways.

While the bill only refers to healthcare facilities, its introduction stems from a series of calls to law enforcement at the only Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. Calls of impeding traffic, which is stopped by protesters at the clinic on Forest Park Parkway, as well as peace disturbances rose from 38 in 2015 to 73 in 2017, according to Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, 6th Ward, who sponsored the bill.

Ingrassia said the bill strikes a balance between the constitutional rights of protesters and the rights of women to access legal healthcare and noted that the bill is in line with other cities which have had similar bills held up in court.

“This is the next step that we need to take as a city to try and ensure that people are able to access health care and that demonstrator’s First Amendment Right’s are also protected,” Ingrassia said.

Since its introduction, however, some critics have claimed it infringes upon First Amendment rights. At least 13 Aldermen, including Alderwoman Marlene Davis, 19th Ward, who called the bill “a slippery slope”, said the approval will only warrant more buffer zones at other places in the near future.

Davis said people in their cars can roll up their window, drive forward and ignore the protesters. She added that there are laws already on the books to guard against undue harassment or assault.

“If this is what we’re going to pass then we’re going to stop all protesting the way it’s being done,” Davis said. “If you want to go here then we’re going to have to get tight on all of it.”

Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, 1st Ward, questioned the impact the proposal could have on other forms of protest as well.

“When you don’t protect other people’s rights, they come back to bite you,” Tyus said.

Just before the final vote took place, Ingrassia said the bills not passing would not be a failure but rather a conversation starter. It is unclear if she will introduce the bill again during the board’s next session.

“If the bill does not pass it does not mean that the conversation is not important to have here at the board,” Ingrassia said. “Having a conversation, having a bill not pass out of the board is not a failure.”

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