September 30, 2014

Permit policy raises concerns

Wisconsin’s Capitol Police Chief is responding to criticisms about plans to enforce a permit policy for demonstrations at the statehouse. Capitol Police Chief David Erwin says he wants to crackdown on frequent protesters who fail to obtain a permit for demonstrations in the building. The policy requires groups to provide notice 72 hours before an event.

The policy has been in place since 1979, but a written version of the rules did not exist until last December. The decision to more actively enforce it is expected to have the biggest impact on noon sing-a-longs by protesters in the rotunda, although Erwin contends that’s not the intent. The almost daily protest sessions have been going on for the past year.

In a letter to the chief, Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) said he worries the plan could limit free and open access to the Capitol. He urges Erwin to meet with legislative leaders and the State Supreme Court to discuss the issue.

Erwin wrote back Thursday, saying his plan is aimed at protecting everyone’s ability to use the building. Erwin told WRN earlier this week that the decision is about being able to manage events at the Capitol and is not motivated by politics. His response to Miller also argues no one group should be allowed to dominate an area of the Capitol during a key time period each day.

There is no cost associated with permits for Capitol events. Erwin also points out that of 355 permits applied for this year, only two have been denied. One was rejected because it conflicted with another event, while the other was for an event actually set to take place on City of Madison property.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:19)