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Legislation aimed at restricting protests at military and other funerals won unanimous approval in the state Senate today.

Senate Bill 661, by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, would prohibit picketing within 500 feet of a burial or memorial site within one hour of the service. Violators of the law could face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Supporters say the bill, which is backed by veterans groups, will protect grieving families from distress while maintaining the First Amendment rights of protesters. Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, say the bill goes too far in protecting the interests of funeral attendees over free speech.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar version of the bill last year, writing in a message that while he was "very tempted to sign it," he felt the language "plainly fails to comport" with a 2011 Supreme Court decision.

Lieu's office believes changes to the language, including decreasing the zone around the funeral where picketing is banned, addresses the governor's concerns.

The bill now heads to the state Assembly for consideration.


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