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Fort Myers city council wants to ban offensive language at meetings

Posted at 10:37 PM, Jul 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-30 22:37:17-04

FORT MYERS, Fla -- Out with the bad language and in with a new motion to keep the “offensive,” language out for good. In a six to one motion, the Fort Myers city council asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance to fine and jail people if they use offensive language during council meetings.

City councilman, Fred Burson, lead the charge with the idea, he called it the 'Pledge of Civility.' Burson says he's fed up with the amount of offensive language and comments in city council meetings. Burson says people who violate the proposed motion could be fined up to $500 or up to 60 days in jail.

"Councilman Streets has been called, 'the dumbest black man, I’ve ever seen,' Mayor Henderson has been called 'the dumbest white man I’ve ever seen,' and it's inappropriate," Burson said. "The only thing I was trying to get across was to be polite."

Burson says the offensive language, that’s described as rude, racist and demeaning has been getting out of hand and he says an ordinance to keep it out of the council chambers, would do just that. But some feel this motion could be an infringement on their first amendment rights.

Community activist, Anthony Thomas, says this motion was targeted towards him and others who have spoken out in council meetings.

"As I told them, I welcome the privilege of being arrested if that’s what they want to do. We’re not going to be cowards and we’re not going to allow them from stopping us to use our first amendment rights," Thomas said.

Fox 4 asked for an opinion from a local lawyer to get a take on how constitutional the motion is. Attorney at law, Luis Insignares, says given the political climate, it's an understandable motion, but he says, it's not the best route to take.

"To the extent that they do that, only to protect themselves or to infringe on peoples rights, that’s where you run into constitutional problems. If it’s ugly if it’s offensive. It’s constitutional," Insignares said.

Councilman Burson feels it’s a motion that will help the flow of meetings.

"We just don’t need to be calling each other names because the real issue gets lost in the name-calling. I’m not trying to bar anyone’s first amendment rights, but I think we can discuss issues without insulting each other," Burson said.