February 13, 2016

Three strikes and you’re out in the Assembly

New rules in the state Assembly could help to limit disruptions from protesters this session. The rules create a “three strikes and you’re out” system for anyone who tries to interrupt Assembly proceedings from the gallery.

On the first offense, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) says they will be escorted out for the day. On the second, they will lose the right to be an observer for that floor period. If they have a third offense, they will not be allowed back in the gallery for the rest of the session.

The types of disruptions covered by the rules include holding up a sign or shouting. However, they also ban the use of cell phones and laptops, note taking, and carrying in bags or briefcases.

Milwaukee Democrat Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) worries the restrictions may violate the First Amendment rights of the public and could be challenged on free speech grounds. Vos contends that the public is still welcome in the Assembly as observers, but they will be removed if they violate “reasonable” restrictions.

Protests from the Assembly gallery were a frequent occurrence last session. Many repeat offenders were removed by police, only to return during the next floor period. While some did shout or create distractions from the gallery, many were also removed for holding small signs or for trying to videotape lawmakers from the balcony area.

The rules adopted Thursday also include provisions aimed at limiting the long-standing practice of having debates that last all-night in the Assembly, along with an updated dress code for members that requires men to wear a jacket and tie and women to wear “appropriate attire” on the chamber floor.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:11)

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