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Legal experts raise concerns over new state building demonstration policy

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Demonstrators at the Wisconsin State Capitol on June 14, 2011. (Photo credit: Wisconsin Radio Network)
Demonstrators at the Wisconsin State Capitol on June 14, 2011. (Photo credit: Wisconsin Radio Network)

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Legal experts are raising concerns about the Walker administration’s new policy on getting permits for demonstrations and other activities at state buildings – and possibly having to pay for police and clean-up costs.

The Administration Department started phasing in the policy Thursday, and said it would fully take effect December 16th.

It comes in the aftermath of the massive pro-union demonstrations at the Capitol in February and March, and protests like the daily noon-time sing-a-longs by the Solidarity Singers.

State law allows for the granting of permits to use state facilities, and to make applicants liable for any resulting expenses. But Marquette law professor Edward Fallone said he’s skeptical about, “charging people to express their First Amendment opinion.”

Chris Ahmuty of the American Civil Liberties Union said he could see agencies charging or requiring insurance depending on whether a group opposes them. He also said the policy leaves too much discretion to the Capitol Police.

Permits must be obtained 72 hours in advance for activities or displays involving four or more people. Spontaneous events would still be allowed.

The policy also says groups could be charged for the police and clean-up costs they generate. The Capitol Police said its costs are $50 an hour per officer.

Media attorney Bob Dreps of Madison said the state can put some regulations on the time, place, and manner of free speech. But he said it would be “laughable” to define a rally as having four or more people.

Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch says the goal is to provide equal and continual access to state buildings in a reasonable and safe manner.

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