WEST DEPTFORD (AP) — Protests outside the home of New Jersey's state Senate president could be outlawed by a newly proposed ordinance.

Sweeney speaks during a July 21 press conference. (Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media NJ)

The West Deptford Township Committee introduced an ordinance Wednesday to overhaul its loitering ordinance and regulate picketing in residential areas, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The measure would ban picketing that's targeted at and within 100 feet of a house in the Gloucester County town. Picketing beyond that point would be limited to no more than 10 people for one hour every two weeks and anyone intending to conduct such a protest would have to notify West Deptford police 24 hours in advance.

If it's approved, violators could face fines of up to $2,000, and imprisonment of up to 90 days— or up to 90 days of community service.

The proposal comes after gun proponents staged two protests at Democratic Sen. Stephen Sweeney's home, blaming him for tight gun restrictions in the state.

Democratic Deputy Mayor James Mehaffey said the ordinance was introduced because of recent protests that required police to monitor the situation. Although references to Sweeney were made at the meeting, no one mentioned him by name.

But those with the guns-rights group that organized last Sunday's protest criticized the measure as one done in the personal interest of Sweeney.

"We are trying to protect everybody," police chief Samuel DiSimone said. "For me, it's manpower issues. It doesn't matter who the person is."

DiSimone said that assigning one officer to a spontaneous protest further limits police availability to respond to other incidents.

Critics of the ordinance said it would infringe on free-speech rights, but Michael Miles, a lawyer with the town's labor counsel, said the regulation was lawful because it balances free speech with individual's expected privacy rights in their homes.

Sweeney didn't respond to the newspaper's request for comment.


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