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Protest law rejected in Augusta again

For the second time in two weeks, the Augusta Richmond County Commission on Monday failed to pass a law regulating protestors against Augusta National Golf Club's all-male membership at this year's Masters golf tournament.

The proposed ordinance, which would have applied to all demonstrations, was rejected in a 5-5 vote, the same outcome as on Jan. 21. This time, however, Mayor Bob Young, who was not at the last meeting, voted -- in favor of the law.

It failed anyway because one commissioner wasn't present, and six "yes" votes are necessary to pass the law.

The ordinance could come up again at a future meeting, if a commissioner raises the matter.

Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, which has led the push for a woman member at Augusta National, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have said they will protest at this year's Masters if the club does not invite a female.

So far, Burk has not applied for a permit to protest.

Young said the law was not directed at possible Augusta National protests, however.

"This has been said to be the 'Martha Burk ordinance,' but it's not. It's to change an ordinance that has some constitutional flaws in it."

However, commissioner Lee Beard said, "The perception is that we were trying to stop Ms. Burk and Rev. Jackson from coming to town."

Monday's proposal failed even though city attorneys modified its language, softening some of the time requirements in it.

In the revised proposal, demonstrators could file for a permit to protest as little as 20 days before picketing, down from 30 days in the original.

Also, the sheriff would have to allow or deny a permit application within seven calendar days after receiving the application, down from 10 days.

And, if a permit were denied, the city attorney, at the applicant's request, would be required to seek judicial review of the decision no more than seven calendar days later, down from 20 days.

The revised ordinance still would give the sheriff broad power to allow or deny an application based on public safety issues.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength has said he will restrict the location of a Masters protest, not allowing demonstrators to picket by the club on Washington Road because it would present a safety risk.

As was the case in the original vote, Monday's vote followed racial lines, with all five votes supporting the proposed law coming from white commissioners and Young, who is white, and the five votes against the ordinance coming from African-American commissioners.

Commissioner Andy Cheek was not at the meeting.

Commissioners also voted down a related proposal under which the mayor, sheriff and chairman of the public safety committee would meet with demonstrators prior to the event.

That vote tied 4-4, with Commissioner Marion Williams abstaining and Young not voting.

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