The administration of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) unveiled a policy Thursday to hold protesters in the state Capitol liable for extra police or cleanup, in the aftermath of massive demonstrations earlier this year against anti-union legislation.
Under the policy, groups of four or more inside state buildings and 100 or more people outside the Capitol must obtain permits at least 72 hours in advance of protests. Groups could be charged $50 per hour per Capitol Police officer, while costs for other law enforcement agencies will vary. The police could also require advance payment and liability insurance or a bond. Cleanup could be charged to organizers.
The policy also makes it clear that spending the night in the Capitol, taping signs to Capitol walls not intended for signs, allowing the sale of food or other items in the Capitol and using sound equipment that would interfere with the building are all not allowed.
The policy is effective immediately. The administration says no one will be denied a permit based on the content of their event.
Edward Fallone, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the policy could be problematic since some groups might not be able to afford the costs. "I'm a little skeptical about charging people to express their First Amendment opinion," he said. "You can't really put a price tag on the First Amendment."
The Wisconsin Department of Administration estimated cleanup and overtime costs for the protests earlier this year were about $8 million, including $270,000 for Capitol building repairs. About $3.9 million of the $8 million was for local law enforcement costs.
Gov. Walker is facing a recall effort. Activists announced earlier this week that they had gathered over 300,000 signatures in 12 days. For a recall, organizers need to collect 540,208 valid signatures by Jan. 17. An election could occur as early as March 27, but will likely be later.
Walker drew a few dozen protesters supporting the recall effort against him Friday as he lit the state Christmas tree. The tree has been controversial since Walker declared it a Christmas tree and not a holiday tree, as it had been called since 1985.
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