Capitol Police and the state government continue to approve permit requests for events held at the Capitol amid controversy over the policy.
The Department of Administration announced as of Tuesday the Capitol Police Department approved 129 event permits for 2013, according to a DOA statement. In 2012, the police approved 496 event permits, the statement said.
The DOA issued the State Facilities Access Policy requiring groups to apply for permits to hold events in the Capitol rotunda many years ago, but began to strongly enforce the policy in September 2012, according to ACLU Legal Director Larry Dupuis.
Thus far, Capitol Police have denied five permit requests, according to the statement. The requests were denied because the event was either not planning to be held on state property or another event was booked at the same date and time, the statement said.
However, this permit requirement is facing controversy from members of the community. University of Wisconsin medical physics professor Michael Kissick and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit Feb. 11 against the Capitol Police over the permitting process.
Dupuis said the ACLU and Kissick took issue with the rule saying only one group can be in the Capitol rotunda at a time. He explained groups of four or larger are required to apply for a permit. This is unnecessary because the rotunda is a big space, he said.
Dupuis said the ACLU is advocating for the Capitol Police to return to the voluntary reservation system. The voluntary reservation system allows groups to reserve event dates and times, but also lets them use the rotunda without a reservation if it is not in use, he explained.
Dupuis said the police can also charge groups for staffing the rotunda with extra officers for their events.
“This is a problem because it invites the government to look at the content of the event and add more officers if the group looks like they will create trouble,” he said.
This is a way for the police to treat groups differently, he said.
The lawsuit came about because Kissick, who had protested at the Capitol periodically, stopped going when police began making arrests and handing out tickets to protestors without a permit. Kissick wanted to return to protesting at the Capitol, but felt he could not do so until the permit requirement was addressed, he said.
DOA spokesperson Stephanie Marquis said the permit process is significant for several reasons. She explained it helps Capitol Police to know how many people are in the Capitol and to allocate the proper number of staff required for events. Additionally, she said the process ensures all citizens have access to the Capitol.
Dupuis said he does not know what the timeline for the lawsuit looks like yet, but the team will schedule a hearing with the judge next week.