The Secretary of the Department of Administration says restrictions on Capitol access implemented this week are needed to regain control of the building. Secretary Mike Huebsch says they will remain in place until protesters agree to stop sleeping there.
Huebsch took the stand Wednesday in Dane County court, where he testified for nearly three hours against a lawsuit that calls for the state to again allow full public access to the Capitol. Entry to the building has been limited since Monday morning, as part of an effort to scale back massive protests inside for the last two weeks of February.
The Secretary says the building needed to be closed so a full cleaning could be done. Huebsch cited health concerns about the hundreds of people who had been essentially living, cooking, and sleeping in the building each day. He also pointed to the fact that the Capitol is an office building first and is not equipped to be treated as a hotel.
Efforts to close the building were made Sunday night, with thousands defying orders to leave. Huebsch says many had come with the plan of being arrested, but the state did not want to force a confrontation. Most of those left on their own, although several dozen have remained in the rotunda since Sunday night and refuse to leave. If the sit-in continues, Huebsch says the state may have to reconsider its policy of pushing for voluntary compliance with Capitol rules.
Ever since protests against Governor Walker’s budget repair bill started around February 14th, Huebsch says the state has worked to accommodate the needs of crowds inside the building that have often been around 6,000 people. He says that has resulted in the need to call on hundreds of law enforcement officers from dozens of agencies, with nearly 400 in and around the building during the peak times of the rallies. Huebsch estimates the cost of bringing in that extra help will come close to $5 million for just the last two weeks of February.
The current rules limit Capitol visitors to those meeting with lawmakers or attending public hearings. Several Democratic lawmakers and groups behind the lawsuit argue that they are being inconsistently enforced and have left thousands of people standing outside of the Capitol waiting to get in.
Even inside the building, state Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) testified that lawmakers and their staff are having a hard time accessing certain areas that have been blocked off by police. Mason described it as similar to needing a “bathroom pass” in middle school to get around.
Testimony in the lawsuit is expected to wrap up this afternoon and the judge could issue a decision on whether the Capitol needs to be fully reopened to the public by the end of the day.