Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is beginning to roll out his new policy to require protestors to pay big money if they want a permit to demonstrate against him in the state Capitol — and the state’s civil libertarians are in turn beginning to push back.
Friday evening, the state ACLU put out a scathing press release on the new policy, from executive director Chris Ahmuty:
“Access rules may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, but they may not create a system that favors some speakers over against others. The Wisconsin Department of Administration appears to be trying to shield public officials from public criticism in disregard of the values of our democracy and constitutional rights.”
“The ACLU of Wisconsin will be considering legal action regarding these restrictive rules. To avoid violating free speech rights at our Capitol, the Department of Administration should delay implementation to address problematic sections in the new policy.”
TPM asked Ahmuty on Monday, whether the state ACLU is taking legal action at this time.
“It depends on what you mean by legal action,” Ahmuty responded. “Are we going to be in court today seeking a temporary restraining order? No. But we are evaluating how the rules will be promulgated, and we are considering legal action. I never say we are filing a lawsuit until the paper is handed in.
“There are numerous problems with the new policy that’s come out. And so I think the first legal action that we would take is probably an inquiry into the Department of Administration with some questions, and probably a demand-type letter - you need to make sure this happens, that kind of thing — maybe something short of litigation int he short term.
“They have scheduled, according to an article in the Capital Times, what are referred to as ‘informational compliance sessions,’ for tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday. And supposedly someone from the Department of Administration, and the Capitol Police, are going to be running their session. And I really hope they are going to have a question-and-answer session.
Ahmuty explained some of the problems with the policy. Among other things: “Being able to charge up front, without having a waiver, and things like requiring liability insurance — not for everybody, but at the discretion of the Capitol Police — and then the whole notion of calling four people a group, that seems a bit much. So the legal action that we’re going to take now is through inquiries into the Department and the police, to find out their answers to these questions.
Ahmuty added: “We’re doing more than just seeking information. we’re advocating and organizing to see if they won’t clarify or clean up the rules.”
The Department of Administration did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Friday, under the new policy groups of four or more people must request permits at least 72 hours in advance, for events at the state Capitol or other state buildings.
In addition, organizers would have to pay for the extra Capitol police officers, at a rate of $50 per hour per officer — plus costs for police officers brought in from outside agencies, according to the costs billed to the state. The police payment would have to be tendered in advance, as a requirement for getting a permit. Afterwards, organizers would then be charged for any clean-up costs.