|(PHOTO CREDIT: MADISON.COM)|
MADISON -- (WTDY) In December, the Department of Administration imposedd new access rules for the Capitol. The new rules require that groups of four or more, as well as anyone with visual displays, apply for a permit before any protest or gathering. New Capitol Police Chief David Erwin announced Monday that he was going to start cracking down on demonstrators at the Capitol, including the Solidarity Singers.
"All I'm saying is that if I have a peaceful group that want to come to sing at lunch, I just don't understand why they wouldn't want to get a permit," said Chief Erwin.
Despite the Chief's warning, there were no arrests or tickets at this week's Solidarity Sing Along even though the group was in clear violation of the new rules.
"I'm excited that [the Solidarity Singers] are willing to comply with this and are entertaining the idea of it," he said.
Chief Erwin noted that some of the protest singers have expressed interest in at least learning more about applying for a permit for their daily sing-along. But it's unclear what will happen if the Solidarity Singers do not apply for a permit and continue to violate the new access rules at the Capitol.
"I know the quick answer is to say that I'll issue a citation or I'll make arrests but I'm going to seek compliance," said Chief Erwin. "They'll be the ones that send me in the direction I need to go in."
Chief Erwin also announced this week that the State Department of Justice will now be prosecuting civil citations issued at the Capitol. In the recent past, the Dane County District Attorney's office handled those cases, and the vast majority of tickets given to protesters were dismissed.
Chief Erwin believes the permits ensure that everyone shares the State Capitol. Critics of the new Capitol access rules, including some Democratic lawmakers, contend that some provisions place too much of a burden on protesters. One clause makes permit holders legally responsible for any injuries that may occur at their event. This could mean that permit holders, instead of the state, would be on the hook if an individual sues because of injuries inflicted by a Capitol police officer or any other government employee not involved in the event.
"They need to take a little ownership in that," explains Chief Erwin. "It's their event and we're there to provide safety and security no matter what the event is."
Chief Erwin wouldn't say whether he believes the Solidarity Singers are preventing others from using or enjoying the Capitol Rotunda, but he did say that the law is the law and everyone needs to comply.
"If I know where I have some normalcy and we get everyone to enjoy this building," said Erwin, "I'll be a happy Chief".