Judge Order Protesters Out of Wisconsin Capitol
MADISON, Wis. — Capping two weeks of sit-ins, pro-union protesters cleared out of the Wisconsin Capitol on Thursday night after a judge ordered their removal. The judge also ruled the state had violated the public’s free speech and assembly rights by restricting its access to the building.
Dane County Circuit Judge John Albert directed authorities to immediately take actions to remove demonstrators who stayed in the Capitol after its normal 6 p.m. closing time. He also ordered the removal of unauthorized materials, such as sleeping bags, air mattresses and the hundreds — perhaps even thousands — of signs that protesters have taped to the Capitol’s walls.
Some protesters voluntarily complied with the order to leave. Others did not immediately do so but left the Capitol later in the evening.
The demonstrators are upset with Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to eliminate nearly all collective-bargaining rights for public employee unions. At times, tens of thousands of people have congregated on the Capitol grounds during the past couple of weeks.
A partial victory
The decision was a partial victory for protesters because Albert determined that the policy restricting public access violated constitutional rights and ordered the state to reopen the Capitol with greater public access by 8 a.m. Monday.
“Free speech, protests, rallies should be allowed during the hours the Capitol is open and at any other time when either house of the Legislature is in session or any committee or government body is conducting a public hearing,” Albert said. “But it is completely within the rights of the people who run the Capitol to prevent people from entering . . . with sleeping bags, pillows, mats and blankets, and intending to remain after closing hours.”
Albert’s ruling came after three days of testimony from more than 30 witnesses, including lawmakers, Capitol staff and protesters.
University of Wisconsin Police Chief Susan Riseling testified that 41 rounds of .22-caliber ammunition were found Thursday morning scattered at several locations outside the Capitol. No guns were found with them.
Earlier Thursday, Walker threatened to issue thousands of layoff notices within 24 hours if Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois fail to return for a vote on a measure that would cripple public unions, and their Republican colleagues also stepped up the pressure by authorizing police to round up the missing lawmakers. The efforts marked the most drastic steps in the standoff that has extended more than two weeks.
While Walker said he is actively working with some of the Democrats in hopes of striking a deal, he told The Associated Press he won’t compromise on the collective-bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.
“I can’t take any of that off the table,” he said. “We cannot tear apart this budget. We cannot put this burden on local governments. But if there are other ways they are willing to work with us to find a pathway back, I think that’s what people want.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller confirmed there were talks with Walker, but he did not think they were close to reaching a deal.
Meanwhile, Indiana House Democrats who are boycotting the legislature over labor and education bills they oppose will be imposed fines of $250 a day under a decision made by Republicans on Thursday.
Most House Democrats skipped Thursday’s floor sessions, extending their stay at an Urbana, Ill., hotel to a 10th day and preventing action on the bills because too few members were present. The fines would start being assessed Monday and be deducted from the salaries or expense allowances of the absent members.
Movement in Ohio
In Ohio, legislation to curb public employee unions is speeding toward passage. Days of protests in Columbus haven’t added up to the numbers seen in a single day in Madison. In Ohio, though, the Republicans hold big enough majorities in both chambers to vote on the bill and pass it even if the Democrats walk out.
Ohio’s bill would restrict the bargaining rights of roughly 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees. They would no longer be able to negotiate health care benefits or certain working conditions, and they would be barred from striking.
In New Jersey, thousands of firefighters and police officers gathered outside the statehouse in a boisterous protest against Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to wring concessions from them on health and pension benefits. Chanting and waving signs, they also railed against the layoffs of public-safety employees around New Jersey.
Read more: Judge orders protesters out of Wisconsin Capitol – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_17535963#ixzz1s6KuytRN
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