OLYMPIA — Leaders in the state House on Monday quickly moved a measure to restrict demonstrations at funeral services, especially those for military personnel.
The bill — one of the first measures passed this session by the House — sailed through 89-5, with four representatives excused.
Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, sponsored the bill and said the measure would protect more than just military families.
"Everyone has the right to mourn a loved one without a person in their face protesting," Roach said on the floor.
The measure — if approved by the Senate — would require protesters to remain 500 feet or more from funeral processions, the gravesite and the funeral home or building where a funeral service is taking place.
Violators could be charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.
Members from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have gained notoriety by demonstrating at military funerals across the county, including Washington state, claiming God is killing troops in Iraq to punish the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality.
The section requiring a 500-foot zone around funeral processions concerned Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who voted against the measure. Pedersen, a civil rights attorney, said he thought that provision went too far and could lead to First Amendment violations.
"I think this could create an opportunity for abuse by overzealous law enforcement," said Pedersen, who added that, as a gay man, he was torn by the bill.
"This hate stings me deeply," he said.
Doug Honig, spokesman for American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said his organization doesn't have an official position on the bill.
"If it does get passed, we'll be watching to make sure it's implemented in a way that doesn't interfere with freedom of speech," Honig said.
Reps. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, Jim McIntire, D-Seattle, and Shay Schual-Berke, D-Normandy Park, also voted against the measure.
Roach had expected the measure to pass last year, but the session ended without Senate Democrats taking a vote. House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, promised the bill would be one of the first voted on in the 2007 session.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the Senate would take up the measure this week.
"We want to do it as soon as possible on the Senate floor," she said, adding that the bill would skip the committee process altogether and go directly to the floor for a vote.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she wanted to see the bill before deciding whether to sign it into law.
She mentioned going to a funeral in Eastern Washington when protesters were there and "saw a huge potential for conflict."
"But I don't want to be premature," she said. "I haven't had a chance to see the bill."
Also Monday, the House passed:
• A bill that would allow the state to offer Medicare Part D copayment coverage to individuals eligible for Medicaid and Medicare.
• A measure that would allow students under 21 who have completed all state and local graduation requirements, except the certificate of academic achievement, to enroll at no charge at a community or technical college in a program to earn a high school diploma.
—The Associated Press