Sunday, February 12, 2012

Yup. It’s still there.

Posted: January 30, 8:46 pm | (permalink) | (0 comments)

“It” is that provision in the First Amendment that insures “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” The First Amendment doesn’t limit the number of people who wish to assemble, their purpose for assembling, or limit their assembling to on land versus on water. And the First Amendment says nothing about getting permission to assemble.

But a story in today’s Capital, “Police Want to Control Size of Raft-Ups,” seems to me to risk unintentionally tangling with that First Amendment right. “Senate Bill 127 would prohibit anyone from holding a marine gathering of 50 or more boats without first obtaining a permit…”

Of course, there are safety limits to the right of assembly – just as movie theaters have occupancy limits, 800 boats gathering on a small river create a situation that goes beyond congestion and into the realm of blocking the waterway and compromising safety. Even the organizer of the Magothy River “Bumper Bash” has acknowledged that it has gotten out of hand. Seems that the bad actions of a few have again spoiled it for us all. Acknowledged, there are costs to the taxpayers when an event is large enough to need some presence by local law enforcement. Those costs shouldn’t be passed on the general public, but isn’t that what our boating fees are for? (Or, part of what they should be for?). We already have mechanisms for dealing with improper behavior, such as drunkenness and littering and excessive noise, and don’t need new laws for that. Then it gets complicated.

Here’s the complicated part. The text says, “marine gathering.” Is that a raft-up? Must all the boats be tied together? As written now, maybe not. What if there are 51 boats anchored individually or rafted in twos and threes over several acres in a creek or harbor, socializing together? If they don’t block navigation, or create unusual potential for safety concerns, should that also be regulated? I’m thinking that the proposal addresses something that needs to be addressed, but needs more consideration because as written, the vague and general wording can lead to unintended consequences and over-regulation.

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