The Wisconsin State Capitol building has been the scene of protests since February, when Gov. Scott Walker started the process of passing a law that severely limits collective bargaining for public employees in the state.
Yesterday, the Walker administration took a step that is likely to antagonize protesters further. His administration enacted new regulations that would require permits to protest at the Capitol and other state buildings.
The controversial part is that the bill allows officials to charge groups for the security and clean-up costs of such events.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the policy went into effect Thursday:
"State law already says public officials may issue permits for the use of state facilities, and applicants "shall be liable to the state . . . for any expense arising out of any such use and for such sum as the managing authority may charge for such use."
"But Edward Fallone, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School, said the possibility of charging demonstrators for police costs might be problematic because some groups might not be able to afford to pay.
"'I'm a little skeptical about charging people to express their First Amendment opinion,' he said. 'You can't really put a price tag on the First Amendment.'"
The Sentinel reports that the policy also states that police "could require an advance payment as a requirement for getting a permit and also could require liability insurance or a bond."
According to the AP, protests during the collective bargaining debate cost the state $8 million in extra police protection.
WTAQ, a local news station, reports that some First Amendment experts expressed concern about the law:
"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.
"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."
Governor Walker's administration told the Sentinel the point of the new regulation is "to provide equal and continual access for all Wisconsinites to their state buildings in a way that is reasonable and safe."