Posted: Jan 11, 2011 1:08 PM by The Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona legislators planned to consider emergency legislation Tuesday to head off picketing by a Topeka, Kan., church at the funeral service for a 9-year-old girl who was among six people killed during Saturday's shooting in Tucson.
The proposed law would prohibit protests at or near funeral sites.
It would take effect immediately if passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer.
Legislative aides said the bill appeared to be on track for quick passage, and Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said the Republican governor would sign the bill if it reaches her desk.
The Westboro Baptist Church said Monday it plans to picket Thursday's funeral for Christina Taylor Green because "God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America." The fundamentalist church has picketed many military funerals to draw attention to its view that the deaths are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
Lawmakers denounced the church's plan to picket the funeral of a child.
"This is just horrific that ... people have to deal with this. We shouldn't have to do this in time of great pain for our state," said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat.
The girl was the youngest of the six people killed during the shooting at an event held by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was among 14 people injured. Giffords was shot in the head and critically wounded.
Numerous states have passed laws restricting protests at funerals after members of the Westboro church began protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sinema, who said she is the lead sponsor of the Senate's version of the bill, said the Arizona legislation is modeled on an Ohio law that was upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court heard an appeal from the Westboro church in October and is expected to issue a decision by late spring.
The four-paragraph Arizona bill would make it a misdemeanor to picket or conduct other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service from one hour before the event to one hour after.
Sinema said the prohibition would only apply to funeral and burial sites because courts have struck down picketing prohibitions for procession routes.
Spokesmen said House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President Russell Pearce both support the bill and that it enjoys strong bipartisan backing in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Adams "feels its very important to pass this today because he feels that the Westboro Baptist Church is despicable for what they plan to do at the funeral of the 9-year-old," Adams spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. "He used the word 'disgusting' too."