by Karl Kurtz
Last week, the heads of the Indiana state department of administration, state police and state fire marshal jointly announced that access to the Statehouse will now be limited to 3,000 people, including the 1,700 legislators, staff, and administrators who work in the building. The new limits, issued in the name of public safety, were apparently in reaction to the protests at the capitol over public employee collective bargaining rights during last year's legislative sessions and in anticipation of similar demonstrations this year over proposed right to work laws.
A somewhat sarcastic article at IndyStar.com makes it sound like both the announcement and the plan were a bit ham-handed. One door to the Statehouse was set aside for people who worked in the building, registered lobbyists, those who had signed up in advance for tours, and people who had been authorized by a legislator to testify before a committee. The general public was required to pass through another entrance. The notion of certain people being privileged did not go over well.
Today, wiser elected officials prevailed: Gov. Mitch Daniels held a news conference to announce that he was rescinding the order.
Daniels said he made the decision this morning after consulting with legislative leaders and taking into consideration public reaction to the new rules, which had capped access at about 3,000.
“I’ve asked the fire marshal to rescind the new policy and to restore the traditional unlimited access here to the building,” Daniels said. “That’s in place right now. All three doors are open. ... We will do that unless and until there’s a problem.”
Daniels said that “anything goes” policy will continue “as long as that works.”
If situations arise where public safety is endangered, he said, the police “have my authority to do something different at that point.”
Daniels said the security issues were “not idle concerns.”
But, he added, “Indiana respects fervently the rights of minorities” including those of labor union members.
My colleague, Kae Warnock, tells me that the only other state that she knows of that had imposed a limit on capitol access was Wisconsin, which set the number of people allowed in the building at 9,000 in the midst of that state's prolonged occupation of the capitol last year. But the Wisconsin rule didn't give any special privileges to certain classes of people, and the public could use all available entrances to the building. Other states regulate access on an ad hoc basis, judging each situation on the merits at the time--the same policy that Gov. Daniels has now apparently authorized.
Photo credit: Charlie Nye, The Star