MADISON, Wis. -- The state can bill organizers of protests at the Capitol for the cost of police protection and any damage to the building, according to a new policy released Thursday in the wake of massive labor demonstrations that erupted over anti-union legislation earlier this year.
The new policy affecting the Capitol and state buildings released by Gov. Scott Walker's administration is effective immediately. It also restricts what protesters can bring inside buildings, such as helium-filled balloons.
The change comes after protests opposing legislation effectively ending collective bargaining rights that resulted in about $8 million in costs for police protection. The rallies grew as large as 100,000 people and smaller rallies, including a daily noontime sing-a-long of protest songs, have continued.
Under the new policy, labor unions, teachers and other organizers of those protests could have been held liable for those costs. The policy says Capitol Police costs will be $50 per hour, but the cost of other law enforcement agencies will vary.
Department of Administration spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said the singers who continue to gather have been contacted to help them come into compliance with the new policy. She said the policy largely puts in writing what had been the unofficial policies of the past.
No one will be denied a permit to hold an event in or around the Capitol based on the content of their event, Webster said.
"Our goal is to provide equal and continual access for all Wisconsinites to their state buildings in a way that is reasonable and safe," said Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch. "This policy ensures our ability to appropriately staff events for the safety of those participating."
Under the policy, all activity and displays in state buildings must be permitted at least 72 hours before the activity or display date. The policy does allow for spontaneous events caused by unforeseen events.
The policy makes clear that no one is allowed to spend the night in the Capitol, disallows the selling of food or other items on state government property, delineates what type of displays are allowed, and bars the use of any sound equipment that would interfere with the primary uses of the building.
During the union protests, some people camped out for days on end in the Capitol before finally leaving under an agreement reached with Capitol Police.
Signs on sticks and helium balloons, both common during the collective-bargaining protests, are no longer allowed in the Capitol. A state worker who popped a protester's heart-shaped balloon in July pleaded guilty last month to disorderly conduct and is back at work. That incident occurred after the worker, Ron Blair, told the protester he was tired of continually retrieving the balloons released by protesters from inside the ceiling of the Capitol.
Anyone who doesn't follow the policies is subject to immediate removal from the building.
In addition to protests, the Capitol is frequently used for weddings, school band concerts, recognition services and other events usually over the noon hour.