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Petitioners may collect signatures outside libraries

Tuesday, March 3, 2020 by Jo Clifton

The Austin Public Library has adopted new rules relating to free speech and petitioning at city libraries, according to a memo Library Director Roosevelt Weeks sent to the mayor and Council last week.

That memo states that the new rules were adopted on Oct. 8, 2019, about 20 months after people gathering signatures on petitions outside public libraries received criminal trespass warnings. Those citations were later dismissed after attorneys Bill Aleshire, Bill Bunch and Fred Lewis informed the library staff that their actions to stop the petitioners were illegal.

Under the old rules, the library prohibited distributing literature or otherwise soliciting customers on library property. The old rules also prohibited soliciting money “or any other thing of value.” That section now says a customer may not “distribute literature or otherwise solicit customers inside library buildings or parking areas.” The new rules do not prohibit petitioners from gathering signatures and talking to people on the sidewalk.

According to Weeks, the Library Department worked closely with the Law Department to determine how to modify the rules.

Now is a particularly important time for petitioners, who are currently circulating petitions to recall Mayor Steve Adler and five Council members who are not up for reelection in November. In addition, petitioners with Save Austin Now are attempting to gather 20,000 signatures to put an ordinance on the November ballot to reinstate the city’s previous ban on camping in public. The bipartisan group had been gathering signatures online, but needs signatures of voters on paper in order to get the petition on the ballot. One of the group’s leaders, Cleo Petricek, stated in a press release about the petition, “Our city leaders have not listened, so we must take action ourselves.”

Photo by Mikerussell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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