An agreement reached by the Wisconsin Department of Administration and American Civil Liberties Union would allow protesters to gather at the state Capitol building without getting a permit. Under the deal announced Tuesday morning, groups fewer than 12 people will not need to obtain a permit to protest or gather in the Capitol. Groups of 12 or more people will have to request a permit for their event from the DOA or simply give notice to the state that they plan to meet in the building.
ACLU of Wisconsin Legal Director Larry Dupuis called the agreement a victory for advocates of free speech, since you “don’t need to get the permission of the government, you just have to tell them you are coming.” Dupuis says you don’t even have to tell them very much, just when you plan to get there.
The agreement settles a lawsuit that was scheduled to go to trial next year, and it acknowledges that DOA has the authority to create a permitting system and manage the Capitol and other state buildings.
The ACLU filed the case after the state updated permitting policies in December of 2011, in response to protesters gathering in the Capitol rotunda almost every weekday since the spring of 2011 to protest Governor Scott Walker’s Administration. A judge issued a preliminary injunction this past July saying the state could only require permits for groups of 20 or more people, which prompted the state to again begin arresting and ticketing members of the protest group.
Under the new agreement, unless someone has already given notice for a conflicting event, the new request must be approved. One request is good for recurring events within ten days, but notice must be given two business days in advance. People can ask just once for the entire week.
The DOA has said all along it needs to know when, who, and how many people plan to be at the Capitol. Dupuis says that will happen under this agreement. As part of the deal, the Walker Administration will pay nearly $90,000 for ACLU attorney fees.
The DOA says permits are free, and the Capitol Police Department issues permits to use the Capitol regardless of political party, affiliation, or content. To date, the Capitol Police have issued 459 permits in 2013, and 496 permits were issued in 2012.
WRN’s Jackie Johnson talked to Legal Director Larry Dupuis.