NEW BRITAIN – Several residents expressed concern about a proposed resolution regarding park use regulations and how it would impact first amendment rights.
The city’s Common Council met Wednesday night and discussed a resolution that would amend a portion of Chapter 17 of the city’s Code of Ordinances regarding park use. The change proposes residents be required to obtain a permit from the board of Park and Recreation commissioners to reserve any area or place in any park for special or private use by groups of more than 25 persons. The proposed change would also require that applicants submit requests at least 60 days prior to the event.
New Britain Racial Justice Coalition Founder Alicia Strong said the proposed changes could have a significant impact on community and advocacy groups that wish to assemble in the future. Strong said, if passed, the resolution could not only impact individual residents but a number of local community groups.
“I think right now New Britain has amazing and beautiful parks and I think we should allow all organizations and all residents to take part in that without feeling like they’re breaking some kind of rule or doing something wrong,” Strong said.
Strong said requiring a permit for groups of more than 25 and requiring an application for a permit 60 prior could infringe on residents’ rights to assemble. Strong referenced a recent protest by teachers and paraprofessionals organized in Central Park, which was planned in less than 60 days. She said under the new provision that type of organization would not be allowed to happen.
“The mandate to apply 60 days for a permit before [an event] is also very difficult not only for our work that we do in the community but for a lot of protests and actions and things of that nature that happen,” Strong said.
Resident Jason Peppin said the city could run into legal problems if they passed the resolution because of implications that it would infringe on residents’ first amendment rights. He said if the city shuts down an event because of the regulation and arrests are made, it could open the city to potential lawsuits.
“If this city has to worry about a budget, worrying about paying for a lawyer or anything like that is just a ridiculous thing to infringe on someone's first amendment right,” Peppin said.
The resolution also states “persons/organizations holding a special event per the definitions herein without a permit shall be subject to a $99 fine.” Additionally, the change states the city can shut down the event and costs related to the shutdown of said event will be the responsibility of the event organizer. Strong said the coalition has conducted multiple community giveaways and protests and if the proposed regulation passed, the organization would be at risk to receive a fine. She said it’s something that would significantly impact the coalition, which has a small operating budget.
The city’s Common Council voted to refer the resolution to the Consolidated Subcommittee, which is slated to meet again Wednesday, May 5 in the Council Chambers at City Hall.