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Park assembly rule change expected

Pasco County commissioners are expected to end a 26-year-old county rule next week that requires politicians or religious groups to get approval to use county parks.

The problem: The ordinance may be unconstitutional.

County Attorney Karla Stetter said in a memo to commissioners Friday that an ordinance adopted by Pasco in 1970 could be successfully challenged in court.

Her office decided to review the policy after a recent court decision ruled a similar ordinance in Palm Beach County was unconstitutional.

"We've gotten some complaints from church groups and some political candidates," Stetter said in an interview. "If you allow one group to use your facilities, you have to allow all groups."

The current ordinance allows politicians, religious groups and political groups to use a county park facility only with prior approval. A request for permission must be made at least 30 days in advance.

Stetter said commissioners eventually will be asked to amend the existing policy. At Tuesday's board meeting, commissioners are expected to agree not to enforce the current county rule until the amendment is made, she said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida struck down as unconstitutional the sections of a Palm Beach County ordinance requiring permits for campaign activities in parks.

The ordinance had been challenged by Ken Connor, who, while campaigning for governor in 1994, was threatened with arrest when he arrived at a park wearing a T-shirt depicting an American flag and tried to campaign.

Palm Beach's policy "infringes on plaintiff's constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly by prohibiting speech within the traditional public (forum) . . . unless granted prior approval by the government," the U.S. District Court opinion stated.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

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