What's in a name? Tampa hopes new moniker gets protest zone OK'd
TAMPA Bending to critics, Mayor Bob Buckhorn released on Tuesday a fine-tuned version of his Republican National Convention "clean zone" ordinance. The first change: it's now known as the Event Zone. The second change: protesters will get 90 minutes for parades instead of 60. The third change: the footprint has shrunk dramatically.It now sticks closer to the natural boundaries of downtown, leaving out communities north of Interstate 275 and Interstate 4 along with Davis and Harbour islands. It still includes Ybor City, Old Hyde Park, the University of Tampa and the central business district. The proposal, which goes to City Council on May 3, makes few changes to the litany of items – from gas masks to squirt guns – whose use will be closely monitored. But it takes pains to state that, outside the Event Zone, those restrictions apply only to public spaces, not to private property. Police also have to have a reason to believe someone is going to use those items for mischief. "There seemed to be confusion where people thought we were trying to regulate what they were doing in their homes," City Attorney Jim Shimberg said. Bring one of those prohibited items into the Event Zone, however, and all bets are off. "If you have it, we can take it away," Shimberg said. The city has carved out an exemption in the Event Zone for licensed businesses, medical workers and police who need those items to do their jobs. Which is to say: a landscaper with a shovel will draw less scrutiny from police than Occupy protester with a shovel might. The revised RNC ordinance remains powerless to restrict the carrying of concealed weapons downtown during the convention. State law blocks the city from placing any restriction on handguns. A change last fall threatens local officials with fines and loss of office if they try to limit handguns in their jurisdictions. Buckhorn is considering a direct appeal to Gov. Rick Scott asking him to suspend the state's gun restrictions in Tampa during the RNC under emergency powers state law grants the governor. So far the mayor hasn't written that letter. The revised ordinance still requires groups of 50 or more to have a permit for a rally in parks within the Event Zone. Those permits will be good until the park closes at 3 a.m. instead of for 60 minutes as the previous ordinance mandates. The city has set a deadline of June 11 for groups to request a rally permit for a specific time and park. If groups overlap the city will hold a lottery to decide who gets the permit. After that, permits will be issued for open times on a first-come basis. Groups of any size can gather on public sidewalks anytime they want as long as they don't block other pedestrians from using them. Groups can also use the as-yet undefined parade route as long as no other parades are using it, Shimberg said. City Councilman Frank Reddick said he's happy with changes to the footprint of the Event Zone. Reddick had worried police might use the old clean zone boundaries to harass private residents going about their life. "It seems that they've made revisions that should please a lot of people," Reddick said. "There'll still be some people who are disappointed." Reddick remains concerned about how police will determine someone's intent if they're carrying a banned item in residential parts of the Event Zone. City officials say police use their discretion everyday when deciding whether they should arrest someone. "We hope there will be come communication by the police before hand to minimize the number of arrests," said Assistant City Attorney Mauricio Rodriguez, the author of the Event Zone proposal. Someone who is arrested for violating the RNC Event Zone rules faces 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Former City Councilman John Dingfelder, now staff attorney for the Tampa office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the revised ordinance is better but remains problematic. "While the city has made several changes to the proposed ordinance that are more sensitive to the First Amendment, we still believe that it unnecessarily infringes on civil liberties," Dingfelder said.
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