ACLU Challenges Boston's Permit Procedures for Protests During Democratic National Convention

April 15, 2004 12:00 am

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BOSTON — Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the National Lawyers Guild today said that they are seeking significant changes in proposed permit application procedures for groups seeking to hold events during the Democratic National Convention. The groups said that current plans will create unnecessary delays and obstacles to obtaining permits.

“The city of Boston, the Democratic National Committee, and the Secret Service are well aware that any national convention of a major party is going to be the focus of political protest,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Yet, the proposed permitting process will create new layers of bureaucratic red tape and delay for anyone seeking a permit for any public or private event during Convention week.”

The proposed permitting procedures would require anyone seeking to have “any event” that is “open to the public” and “held on public or private property” between July 24 and August 1 to first submit an application to a single employee in the Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing.

This one employee would then have 14 days to make an initial determination of whether an applicant is eligible for a permit under a new set of substantive standards. If the employee gives her approval, applicants then will be required to apply subsequently to one or more city agencies to determine whether the applicant is entitled to a permit under the regulations of each separate agency. The requirements apply both to groups seeking to hold events and to licensed venues seeking to alter the scope of their current license.

“The review by the consumer affairs office adds as much as two weeks to the process of obtaining a license, and after that, applicants still have to negotiate a maze of city agencies seeking additional approvals,” said Urszula Masny-Latos, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. “Under the proposed procedures, the process could take up to one month. It is simply not reasonable.”

In addition to the delay, the new procedures create a new set of substantive standards by which the consumer office can reject a permit. These include the denial of permits to any person or group which “would present an unreasonable danger to the health or safety of the applicant or other users of area [sic] or of City employees or of the public,” or which has not provided a required insurance certificate, or which is alleged to owe money to the city for property damage.

“These proposed standards have not been approved by the city council or promulgated as regulations by any agency of the city,” the ACLU’s Rose said. “The guidelines offer no standards for determining whether a particular activity would present an unreasonable threat to health or safety. A single employee in the Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing, no matter how well qualified, seems poorly suited to be making these kinds of judgments concerning a particular application.”

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