Both branches of the Legislature increased the penalty for picketing or protesting military funerals, to up to two years imprisonment, while Rep. James Cantwell sought further limits on protests by groups, such as Westboro Baptist Church, that hold inflammatory signs at funerals of soldiers.
“Unfortunately the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these actions were just an exercise of protected free speech,” Cantwell said, before the House’s passage of the Valor Act II (S 1885) Wednesday.
He said the group’s signs and songs are designed to elicit an “emotional reaction” and asked, “How can these actions be legal?”
In its version, the Senate increased the buffer zone for military funerals to 1,000 feet.
The House version puts the limit at 500 feet.
Cantwell withdrew an amendment he proposed that would prohibit demonstrations immediately before and after military funerals, and said after some consultation he believes that will come up “at another date.”
Lawmakers hope to have the bill signed into law by Veterans Day.