Honolulu’s ban on keeping personal possessions on sidewalks is one step closer to becoming law, but in many ways the fight has just begun.

With about 20 angry sign-holding Occupy Honolulu protesters in attendance and three police officers in a side room in case things got out of hand, the Honolulu City Council‘s Committee on Safety, Economic Development and Government Affairs on Thursday advanced Bill 54.

If it passes, the bill would allow the city to confiscate all personal belongings left or kept on public property such as sidewalks and parks for more than 24 hours. A final vote will be held Dec. 7, according to the committee’s chair and the bill’s sponsor, Tulsi Gabbard.

“This is not an easy subject,” Gabbard said. “I think its genesis is to apply a fair standard and try to serve the many competing interests.”

No public testimony was heard, as the measure had already been discussed Tuesday morning before a different committee needed the room. Thursday’s discussion included just the Council members, a city attorney and a representative of the Carlisle administration. Gabbard said the public will get another bite of the apple at the Dec. 7 meeting.

Nestor Garcia was the only one to register objections. Romy Cachola, who is not a member of the committee, continued his criticism of the proposal on the grounds that it doesn’t include projected implementation costs and because it won’t help solve Honolulu’s homeless problem. Stanley Chang, Breene Harimoto and Tom Berg joined Gabbard in moving the measure forward.

After the decision to pass the bill out, the committee quickly adjourned. But before members could disperse, the protesters employed a “mic check” or “human microphone” technique of chanting to amplify their voices.

“Bill 54 criminalizes houselessness and the people’s First Amendment rights,” they chanted. “Overnight about 5,000 citizens will be in violation of the law. City government should serve the many, not the few. It passed your committee. But we won’t let it pass the Council. We’ll be back.”

In earlier hearings, attacks on the bill had focused on the impact to Honolulu’s homeless. On Tuesday, critics for the first time cited the First Amendment’s guarantee of a right to free speech and assembly.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Dawn Spurlin told the committee that constitutional law professor Jon Van Dyke had vetted the bill and determined it complied with both the U.S. and Hawaii Constitutions.

“Even protected speech is not permissible in all places and all times,” Spurlin said. She was characterizing both the court ruling that allowed New York City police to eject protesters from Zuccotti Park there as well as the Honolulu debate. “We’re not denying that right, but they didn’t have the right to bring all their stuff into the park and leave it in the park.

“The First Amendment does not give you the right to have possessions, it gives you the right to speech,” she said. “Bill 54 does not govern conduct. … It’s just the storage of the item.”

She said protesters will still be able to stand, sit or lie on the sidewalk holding a sign for as long as they like.

That ran into messages from protesters who brought signs saying things like “People Need Property.” That’s an interesting message from a group that has focused on corporate greed and has been portrayed as anti-capitalist.

Keeping Tabs On Other Occupied Cities

Thursday marked the two-month anniversary of the original Occupy Wall Street protest gathering in New York, and similar movements across the country celebrated the occasion.

In Honolulu, Deputy Managing Director Chrystn Eads listened in on a U.S. Conference of Mayors call where city governments discussed the protests.

“The call was not a policy or strategy discussion,” spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy told Civil Beat in an email. “It was an informational call through the US Conference of Mayors with voluntary participation to provide an opportunity for members to be updated on the Occupy activities in other cities.”

McCoy later said Eads did not say anything on the call, just listened. She also said New York was not represented on the call.

Eleven mayors who participated in a similar call last week about protests in their cities have denied that they were strategizing or coordinating a sweep of encampments.

In the days since that call, at least five cities — Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, Oakland and New York — had police move in on protest groups, according to MSNBC.

Here in Hawaii, eight Occupy Honolulu protesters were arrested Nov. 5 for refusing to move out of a city park.

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