Judge orders Capitol building reopened; administration says it's in compliance

Judge orders Capitol building reopened; administration says it's in compliance

Capitol Demonstrations 3-1 03.jpg
Law enforcement personnel bar protesters from entering the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin as opponents of Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill continue demonstrations Tuesday, March 1, 2011.

A judge has granted a temporary restraining order giving the public access to the state Capitol during business hours and while hearings and other state business are being heard.

The order appears to ease more restrictive policies outlined in a Monday night memo from Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms Anne Tonnon Byers but nothing had changed in terms of access as of 10:45 a.m.

"My understanding is that procedures outlined in the memo remain in effect unless circumstances may change," said Tim Donovan, spokesman for the Department of Administration. He said the order has not been served or seen by administration officials.

In a statement later in the morning, the DOA acknowledged receiving a copy of the ruling but said its existing policies "are in compliance with this order."

Also Tuesday, Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney said that when the DOA decided to block access to the Capitol, he pulled his deputies from that duty because it is not their job to act as "palace guard."

Mahoney expressed frustration that his deputies were not given any reason throughout the day Monday for limiting access to the Capitol.

The temporary restraining order by Dane County Judge Daniel R. Moeser was filed Tuesday morning in response to a lawsuit filed by three union groups: Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24 and the AFL-CIO.

Under the existing policy, the only entrance open to the public will be the King Street doors.

"Members of the public wishing to attend scheduled hearings will be given a badge and escorted by my staff to the appropriate committee room," Byers' memo reads.

The memo adds that state officials plan to limit the number allowed in each room to the number of public seats in each hearing room, and that people leaving will need to turn their badges in at the King Street entrance as they leave to allow others access to each hearing.

Visitors without appointments can also enter at the King Street entrance, according to the state Department of Administration, but "may need to line up outside" to be admitted on a one-to-one basis as other people leave the Capitol.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard entrance will be available for visitors with physical handicaps.

Legislators and staff members are being asked to "escort constituents to their office using this same procedure," with each office being allotted eight badges.

Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to give his budget address at 4 p.m. in the Assembly chamber.

The move to limit access was slammed by protesters, Democratic lawmakers and civil liberties advocates.

In a letter Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin urged DOA Secretary Michael Huebsch to open the statehouse to the public. "Prohibiting protestors on either side of the debate from entering the Capitol during normal business hours or during legislative hearings or sessions, while allowing others with 'business' in the Capitol to enter, is manifestly content-based and, hence presumptively unconstitutional," read the letter.




Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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