Governor Scott Walker’s New Anti-Protest Strategy: First Amendment Fees
Governor Scott Walker(R-WI) is quickly learning that, when you take away people’s rights, they get angry. And when they get angry, sometimes they show up by the thousands and protest outside your office. For several months.
Well apparently Governor Walker has had enough, because a new set of protest regulations went into effect on December 1st in his state. And they’re not exactly protest-friendly…
The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports:
Groups of four or more people must obtain permits for all activity and displays in state buildings and apply for those permits at least 72 hours in advance. The policy requires permits for 100 or more people outside the Capitol. The policy does provide some leeway for spontaneous gatherings triggered by unforeseen events.
Groups holding demonstrations could be charged for the costs of having extra police on hand for the event. Costs associated with a counterprotest could be charged to that second group. The costs would be $50 per hour per Capitol Police officer - costs for police officers from outside agencies would depend on the costs billed to the state. The police could require an advance payment as a requirement for getting a permit and also could require liability insurance or a bond.
The new rules, which many legal experts warned raise serious first amendment concerns, could also hold demonstrators liable for any/all damages and clean-up required as a result of the protest. The clean-up and repairs statute, Walker claims, is a result of protesters allegedly causing $7.5 million in damage to Wisconsin’s Capitol building.
Surprisingly, the Wisconsin chapter of the ACLU is not challenging, but remains skeptical, of the new laws. The potential damage to free speech protection is not lost on them either.
As for the Administration, they claim to have reached out to the one of the groups of protesters who do still have a weekly presence, in an effort to make sure everybody’s on the same page.
One group that meets every weekday at the Capitol is the Solidarity Singers, a pro-labor chorus that has been singing in protest of Walker’s policies since last spring.
Department of Administration spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said an agency lawyer had reached out to the leader of the Solidarity Singers, Chris Reeder, and would be meeting with him about the policy.
Reeder said his group has been willing to take its singing outside on days when other events such as blood drives are happening.
We believe what we’re doing is protected by the First Amendment,” Reeder said of the new policy.
While there doesn’t appear to be any major push-back at this time, it’s unclear if Wisconsinites approve of the new rules, or are too busy collecting signatures for the various Recall Walker campaigns to bother fighting back. If they’re successful, he’ll be gone in a few months anyways.