Police Block Protesters From Entering State Capitol

Protests continued in downtown Madison, but those who showed up at the state Capitol on Monday were denied access to the building.

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The state Department of Administration isn’t allowing protesters to come into the state Capitol on Monday because of new restrictions at the building. Capitol police are preventing people from entering the building, saying they need more demonstrators who have stayed inside the Capitol during the past two weeks of protests to leave first.

Department of Administration officials said some protesters who refused to leave Sunday night have ignored orders to remain on the ground floor of the Capitol. Until those protesters comply, no other demonstrators will be allowed into the building, officials said.

Many protesters who arrived Monday morning were intent on packing the Capitol, as the protests there entered the third week, but they were upset to find the Capitol had been closed.

Instead of doors opening at 8 a.m. Monday, they remain locked.

“I think it’s bad for the governor not to allow anybody inside. We all pay taxes,” retired Beloit firefighter Brian Brown said.

“I think it’s a political move. I think it’s a power move. Unfortunately, we don’t, either side, need to make power moves. That’s silly,” Terry Jones, of Deerfield, said.

Some are calling the move to close the Capitol unconstitutional. But a spokesman for the governor cited a state administrative code and said officials kept the building closed because protesters didn’t leave when asked.

The only people allowed in Monday were those who had appointments with legislators.

“Since the building opened at 8 a.m. today (Monday), law enforcement officers have been engaging in a dialogue with union representatives about a designated area in which the protestors can remain and about rules they should abide by while in the building,” said Department of Administration executive assistant Jodi Jensen in a statement Monday. “Officers in the building are continuing to work with union representatives and the protestors in the building to gain compliance with these requests. No additional protestors will be allowed into the building until these discussions have reached a resolution. At that time, law enforcement will continue to implement the procedures that were announced this morning regarding the admittance of protestors to the Capitol building.”

Protester Erika Wolf said she was among the few inside negotiating with law enforcement.

“They’ve sort of given us an idea of what they’d like us to do in those overnight times. We’re trying to bring back the word of the community that we don’t think that’s going to be good enough,” Wolf said.

Wolf said she believes others causing disturbances harm the protesters’ attempts to work with law enforcement officials.

Specifically, a man who did not appear to be protesting the governor’s bill climbed out on a ledge of the Capitol building Monday morning. Several officers, including Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs, were seen dealing with the man before he was eventually arrested, WISC-TV reported.

“The big dogs aren’t going to be present when we talk about someone out on a ledge, so that takes him away from being able to sit down with us and talk about the terms of getting the building open,” Wolf said.

Other protesters are taking more direct action.

“I feel they’re infringing upon our civil rights and our constitutional rights, and I’m not going to allow it, so I figured I’d step up and file a lawsuit on behalf of Defending Wisconsin PAC and myself,” said Jeremy Ryan, the organization’s executive director.

Rumors had been circulating that windows inside the building were being sealed shut, but that isn’t the case, WISC-TV reported. The DOA said some windows are being repaired after locking mechanisms were broken.

Those windows are located in public areas and are being repaired Monday, said Carla Vigue, a Department of Administration spokeswoman. She also said that windows in staff offices are not being modified in any way.

The Madison Fire Department also received numerous reports on Monday from residents who heard rumors that Capitol windows were being modified to restrict access, said public information officer Lori Wirth in a statement released by the Fire Department.

The department said it has no jurisdiction over occupancy at the Capitol, but it did dispatch several firefighters to investigate the rumors. Wirth said firefighters found no evidence that windows were being sealed.

These restrictions follow two weeks of protests inside the building due to Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair proposal. The Assembly passed the measure last week, but the state Senate can’t pass the bill because 14 Democrats have left the state to thwart a vote.

A cleaning crew continues to work on cleaning up the Capitol, with a second shift cleaning through the day Monday and a third wrapping up on Monday night, officials said.

“Visitors will continue to have access to the state Capitol but traffic through the building will be reduced to allow for a thorough cleaning and then to ensure the safety and security of everyone attending the governor’s speech on Tuesday night,” said Jensen.

According to a news release sent out by DOA officials, visitors will be admitted to meet with legislators and other officials who work in the building, to attend committee hearings, and to observe the state Assembly and state Senate if they are in session. The news release also said that visitors who do not have an appointment but who wish to see their legislators or meet with others in the building can get assistance from Capitol police, who will be stationed at the King Street entrance.

State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, released a statement Monday in response to Walker’s decision to limit access to the state Capitol.

“I am disappointed in Gov. Walker’s decision to block the public’s access to their state Capitol. I want to assure my constituents that I will not allow Gov. Walker to limit your access to my office. If any constituents have legitimate business with my office and are being locked out of the Capitol, a representative from my office will be available at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd entrance to the Capitol at the top of every half hour to escort constituents into the building,” Pocan said in the statement.

The release said protesters will be allowed into the building, but crowd size will be adjusted to accommodate preparation for the Tuesday’s joint legislative session and the number of protesters who remained in the building overnight.

“Citizens who have joined rallies at the Capitol over the last two weeks have been respectful and cooperative and I extend my sincere thanks to them and to the protest organizers who have voluntarily agreed to assist in the effort to return to normal business hours,” Jensen said. “I would ask for them to hang in there with us as cleaning crews and law enforcement do their work inside the building.”

According to Jensen, the procedures will be assessed on Monday evening and any changes will be announced to the public. A daily evaluation will continue into the week, and the public will be alerted to any changes in procedure.

Stay tuned to WISC-TV and Channel 3000 for continuing coverage.