A Dane County Judge says rules put in place this week to restrict public access to the state Capitol building violate the Constitution. As a result, Judge John Albert issued an order Thursday evening for the building to be fully reopened to the public by Monday morning, with the access policies that were in place on “January 28, 2011.”
Judge Albert also ordered the Department of Administration to remove all materials and people that are unauthorized to be in the building after normal business hours. That part of his decision was directed at a group of about 100 demonstrators who have remained in the building since Sunday night in defiance of an order to leave. The Judge says DOA should remove those individuals with actions “allowed under law,” which could include arrest if they refuse to leave.
The decision comes after three days of testimony in a Dane County courtroom that outlined the police response to massive protests in and around the building over the last three weeks in response to Governor Walker’s budget repair bill. As the debate in the Legislature was underway, thousands of people established a presence in the building and many began sleeping there each night.
The judge also heard testimony from several people working in the building on the impact of the massive rallies and how new security policies have made it difficult for most of the public to enter the building.
In issuing his decision, the Judge noted that the Department has made a good faith effort to accommodate the massive rallies and people staying in the building, even ignoring some of its own policies to keep the peace. However, he noted that the new rules have resulted in limits on the general public beyond the Department’s power.
Those rules have restricted the public to entering the Capitol through a single door, with only a limited number of people being allowed in at one time. Anyone entering the building is required to offer their reason for being there, is subject to a security screening, and must receive a pass to access designated areas. Those entering to join the remaining protesters have only been granted access if someone inside the building leaves.
The Judge also directed the Department of Administration to return to a permit granting process for large demonstrations inside the building, which officials often waived due to the rapidly growing protests in recent weeks. He also noted that the Department can take steps to make sure general access to lawmakers’ offices is not restricted by demonstrators.
Attorneys for the state and DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch left the courtroom without comment, making it unclear how quickly they plan to implement the court’s order.
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