July 29, 2014

Senate moves to deter disruptions

Both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature now have new rules in place regarding protests. As expected, the Republican controlled Senate voted Tuesday to approve new rules similar to those passed by the Assembly, with the aim of cracking down on the sorts of disruptions that occurred last session. Democratic Senator Jon Erpenbach questioned the need.

“We were able to remove people (last session) from Senate hearings when . . . people became unruly and needed to be removed,” said Erpenbach. “We didn’t need any of this. Now granted, you needed a locksmith every once in a while.”

GOP Majority Leader, Senator Scott Fitzgerald, said the new rules were drafted after consulting with law enforcement. “We’re asking these professionals to demonstrate considerable restraint in these very difficult situations that they find themselves in,” said Fitzgerald. “You’re right, there were people who were hauled out of the gallery right up until the end of last session. But that’s not acceptable.”

Individuals who display signs in the gallery or who otherwise disrupt Senate floor sessions can be barred from the chamber for 24 hours or more. The new Senate rules also include a “three strikes” provision, whereby persons removed from “Senate spaces” for a third time may be banned the remainder of the session. Democratic Senator Kathleen Vinehout questioned the constitutionality of that. “We as citizens have the right to petition our government,” Vinehout said. “Where is it written that we only have the right to petition our government three times?”

The Senate passed the rules on a 14-18 partisan vote. Democrats offered several amendments, none of which were adopted. The Assembly approved similar rules last week.