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Assembly passes strict rules for observers

New rules approved on a 59-37 vote

MADISON, Wis. - Visitors who come to the Wisconsin state Assembly to watch debate won't be allowed to use cellphones, eat or wear a hat.

Those are some of the restrictions the Republican-controlled state Assembly approved Thursday.

The rules also disallow using computers, reading newspapers or other printed material or carrying bags. They also bar disrupting the Assembly in any way or expressing opinions.

Democrats argue the restrictions are an unconstitutional restriction on the public's right to view their government in action. But Republicans said they're meant to bring more decorum to the galleries.

"You are making a mountain out of a molehill," Republican Speaker Robin Vos said. "All we're saying is, people, if they chose to fill up these galleries, are welcome to observe but they can't continue to try to disrupt in the hopes that that disruption stops the will of the people, which is what happens here on the floor."

Violators can be removed for the day or the entire two-year session if they violate the rules three times.

Democrats said it doesn't make sense that visitors are allowed to carry concealed weapons into the gallery but they can't look at their cellphone or read a newspaper.

"The absurdity of what's being proposed here today in these rules befuddles me to say the least. We're going to say that kids with books or vets with hats, 'no.' But you want to bring your gun in? That's just fine," said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

Another new rule requires male lawmakers to wear a coat and tie and female lawmakers to be appropriately attired. Those in violation would not be allowed to participate in debate that day.

The new rules were approved on a 59-37 vote. One Democrat voted for it.

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