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Wis. To Require Permits For Protests In Capitol


New rules set to go into effect later this month could make it harder to stage demonstrations at Wisconsin's state capitol. The move comes after thousands gathered there earlier this year to protest a new law curbing the power of public employee unions. Governor Scott Walker has issued guidelines that limit the size of crowds both inside and outside the capitol building. Demonstrators would also be responsible for the costs of cleanup and police security.

For more, we're joined by Jason Stein, capitol reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Good to have you with us, Jason.

JASON STEIN: Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: So, exactly what do these rules say about demonstrations at the capitol in Wisconsin?

STEIN: They lay out a number of rules that demonstrators have to abide by. Probably the biggest one is groups of four or more people inside the capitol and groups of 100 or more outside the capitol will have to seek permits. And when they do that, it'll be at the discretion of the capitol police which, you know, that report to the Walker administration, about whether or not they'll need to do things like pay money for the cost of having law enforcement on hand, get insurance in advance, get a bond, that sort of thing.

NEARY: So, a permit is being required for gathering of four or more people? I mean is that...

STEIN: That's right.

NEARY: ...really viewed as a demonstration?

STEIN: Well, I think that's open to people's interpretations. I mean, you know, clearly I mean that's what the Walker administration has set their definition at. On the other hand, groups like the ACLU, you know, question whether or not if you have four college roommates or four people from a church, or four people from a veterans group come down and hold signs inside the rotunda, whether or not that constitutes a demonstration.

NEARY: Now, the Walker administration is saying that these rules aren't new, that this simply clarifies existing policy or existing rules. Is that right?

STEIN: Right. And what they've said is that there's always been a requirement that permits be obtained. Now, to my knowledge, there's not anything with regard to four people or a hundred people. So, there's certainly some bringing things together and making them more detailed and explicit than has been done in the past.

NEARY: What about those massive protests last winter? Were the demonstrators required to clean-up then or pay for security then? I mean, they didn't enforce those rules of that time.

STEIN: They were certainly not required to pay for anything. They said that they did quite a bit of clean-up on their own. Obviously, a lot of other clean-up was still needed. And the law enforcement costs were about $8 million. And those were certainly not born by the demonstrators.

NEARY: So, people are they raising First Amendment issues here. But has anyone taken any specific action or threatened any action against these rules yet?

STEIN: No, not yet. Our state ACLU chapter has said that they'll consider legal action if this goes forward. We also have a group of Solidarity Singers that sing every day at noon. Currently, it was sort of Christmas themed songs that are critical of our governor. And they do not have a permit and they say they don't want to get one. So, that would appear to be a confrontation that will happen sooner or later, because they certainly have more than four people who participate.

NEARY: Is this seen by opponents of the Walker administration - is this seen as a punitive gesture from Walker because he's currently facing a recall movement in the state?

STEIN: Democrats have questioned and unions have questioned whether or not this amounts to a stifling dissent, or at least putting limits on dissent. Obviously the governor denies that. But that has been raised by his opponents, yes.

NEARY: Well, thanks for joining us today, Jason.

STEIN: Oh, it's my pleasure, Lynn. Thanks.

NEARY: Jason Stein is the capitol reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.



This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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