Gavin Newsom, California’s oily-haired governor, recently signed Senate Bill No. 742. That bill, according to its text, will “make it unlawful for a person to knowingly approach a person or an occupied vehicle at a vaccination site, as specified, for the purpose of obstructing, injuring, harassing, intimidating, or interfering with, as defined, that person or vehicle occupant. The bill would define “vaccination site” as the physical location where vaccination services are provided, including, but not limited to, a hospital, physician’s office, clinic, or any retail space or pop-up location made available for large-scale vaccination services. The bill would impose a fine not exceeding $1,000, imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding 6 months, or by both that fine and imprisonment for a violation.”
And to “approach” such a person or facility, the law requires only that you get within 30 feet of a person or 100 feet of a facility. Specifically, it states that it is now “unlawful to knowingly approach within 30 feet of any person while a person is within 100 feet of the entrance or exit of a vaccination site and is seeking to enter or exit a vaccination site, or any occupied motor vehicle seeking entry or exit to a vaccination site, for the purpose of obstructing, injuring, harassing, intimidating, or interfering with that person or vehicle occupant.”
The new law is so restrictive that, as the Federalist notes, the “rules even apply if the speaker is positioned on his own private property.” So, theoretically, a man standing on his own property and protesting the vaccination requirements or otherwise “obstructing” vaccination efforts could end up in a county jail for six months.
Furthermore, the restrictions don’t just ban approaching a person without consent if your goal is to have a conversation with them about the vaccines, but they also prohibit holding up a sign or handing out written materials and approaching someone. In fact, the statute defines “harassing” as “knowingly approaching, without consent, within 30 feet of another person or occupied vehicle for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with, that other person in a public way or on a sidewalk area.”
Many are struck by what they see as the unreasonably strict provisions in the bill.
The Federalist, for instance, notes that “In short, the law bans almost any kind of free speech expression that someone doesn’t want to hear if that speech happens within a good stone’s throw of not only a hospital, medical clinic, or doctor’s office, but a drug store, warehouse club, or grocery store offering vaccinations. This law will only apply, elected officials assure us, until all airborne diseases are eliminated.”
Similarly, Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy described the bill as “clearly unconstitutional,” noting that “The First Amendment protects speech on public sidewalks, including offering leaflets, displaying signs, or conveying oral messages to people who haven’t ‘consen[ted]’.”
Furthermore, the bill doesn’t limit its provisions to those protesting the vaccines or Covid restrictions. As California Family reports, “The messages restricted within this buffer zone aren’t limited to anti-vaccination speech, but any speech on any topic, with one exception according to the bill text, “lawful picketing arising out of a labor dispute.”
Ostensibly, the severe statute is meant to protect Californians from Covid and other infectious diseases. The statute declares that the “act is an urgency statute necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.”
However, some see a more sinister motive in the statute. For instance, The Federalist sees the bill as an attack on pro-life protesters, stating that “Right to Life of Central California, a pregnancy care and counseling center located in Fresno, finds its activities thoroughly throttled by the new law since its facilities are immediately adjacent to a Planned Parenthood site that offers the HPV vaccine.”
It remains to be seen if the likely legal challenges to the bill from free speech and pro-life groups will succeed or if courts will somehow find that it passes constitutional muster.