Against the backdrop of the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker, new rules at the state Capitol will require groups of four or more people to obtain permits before protesting in the building. “I think if you look at the form, you’ll find it’s not particularly onerous,” said Chris Schoenherr, Deputy Secretary of the state Department of Administration. “What it does help do is help do is prevent any kind of surprises, either for Capitol police or for the people holding the event, so they understand exactly what’s going to be required.”
AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:60)
Permit applications must be filed at least 72 hours in advance. In addition to requiring groups of four or more inside the building to get permits, groups of 100 or more outside the building would also have to apply. Applicant groups would be required to cover the costs associated with their protests, including extra law enforcement. The rules also allow for Capitol Police to require an advance payment to cover law enforcement costs. Marquette University law school professor Ed Fallone sees a problem there. “To have to pony up a large amount of money in advance, that really does chill the ability of groups and organizations to hold the demonstration in the first place,” said Fallone, who expects a legal challenge to that provision.
DOA’s Schoenherr was asked about the impact on a singing group that’s become a noon hour fixture in the rotunda. “For the Solidarity Singers, we have not had a permit from them, and we’re going to look to have them apply for a permit,” said Schoenherr. “And we’re reached out to them already, we’re willing to work with them on that.” The group has been singing pro-labor songs in the Capitol on a daily basis for months, and just recently began performing a catalogue of retooled holiday favorites including Have a Holly Jolly Recall, and Scotty’s Gonna Have to Face a Recall. Schoenherr noted that DOA has scheduled a couple of education sessions explaining the new rules. “I don’t think we want to be a position where we’ve got two competing groups in the same space, at the same time, with the expectation that they would have sole opportunity to present their views,” he said.
AUDIO: Solidarity Singers (1:45)
Fallone said the state does have a responsibility implement reasonable restrictions on protest activities. “But I think there’s some debate over whether they’ve gone too far,” he said. “In particular, requiring permits of groups in excess of four people seems perhaps excessive and unreasonable.” He also questioned the need for the new rules in light of this year’s Capitol protests. “It was, to my mind, an extremely successful mass demonstration, and I don’t see how it could be seen as inspiring any real need to go back and make changes,” he said. “I just question the motivation here.”