Wisconsin Assembly Republicans Introduce Resolution To End Transparency And Ban People

Wisconsin state Capitol Building in Madison.

Wisconsin state Capitol Building in Madison.

The Wisconsin Assembly Republicans are quite the bunch. They all stood by as people were removed, day after day, for simply filming an open meeting or silently holding a sign. It seems they forgot to read the Wisconsin Constitution, which states in articles three and four:

SECTION 3. [Free speech; libel.] Every person may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right, and no laws shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press…

SECTION 4. [Right to assemble and petition.] The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.

Today, however, Assembly GOP leaders Robin Vos (R-ALEC) and Scott Suder (R-ALEC) introduced a resolution to change the rules in the Assembly gallery. It is also worth noting that Robin Vos is not only the leader of the Assembly Republicans in the Capitol, but out of it as well. By this I mean, he is the state chair of ALEC or the American Legislative Exchange Council, a matchmaking service that connects politicians to corporate interests and away from the interests of the people.

The resolution is full of unconstitutional ideas and is directly designed to suppress accountability and transparency and allow the Republicans to ban people from the galleries. Lets chop this resolution down and explain exactly why it is so bad.

Individuals in the visitors galleries may not engage in any conduct that expresses or that may be considered to express support for or opposition to any matter before the assembly or that may come before the assembly and may not use any audio or video device to  record, photograph, film, videotape, or in any way depict the proceedings on or about the assembly floor.

Basically what this states is that you cannot petition your government within the chamber and you cannot hold them accountable. The first part bans people from holding signs and potentially even wearing shirts that support or oppose anything that is in, or may come before, the Assembly. You can petition them in places where they are not, but you cannot petition them in the chamber, where they would see you.

Of course, holding a political sign is political speech and this resolution does not state what specific government interest is at stake in putting these restrictions in place. Of my thirty-eight arrests in the Wisconsin State Capitol, at least fifteen have been for silently holding a sign. How exactly does one petition their government without expressing support or opposition? The answer to this is unknown.

The second part goes into filming. Of my thirty-eight arrests in the Capitol, at least twenty have been for silently filming or recording. Most of these have been in the Assembly chamber, not the Senate. The reason for filming is simple. I, and others who have been arrested for the same thing, want to make sure our elected officials are operating with transparency and are accountable. It is very hard to do that when you are not allowed to record audio or video. The courts have ruled on this several times and in these cases they have determined it is within our 1st Amendment rights to film public officials. Take Glik vs Cuniffe, for example, in which the court ruled:

As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” First Nat’l Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978); see also Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969) (“It is . . .well established that the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas.”). An important corollary to this interest in protecting the stock of public information is that “[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by means within the law.’” Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 11 (1978) (quoting Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 681-82 (1972)).

The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218 (1966)

The Republicans say that, because the meetings are broadcast live online, people do not need to film. This is untrue; the meetings are posted live online but unless you watch the whole video, usually several hours, you may not get to show the speech you want at Wisconsineye, a state version of CSPAN, which does not allow people to use their videos. On top of that we have State Statute 19.90 which states, quite clearly:

19.90 Use of equipment in open session. Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting. This section does not permit recording, filming or photographing such a meeting in a manner that interferes with the conduct of the meeting or the rights of the participants.

Of the many arrests for filming in the Gallery, not a single one was for filming in a manner that interfered with the conduct of the meeting or rights of the participants. But this resolution does not end there. It gets worse as you go into the punishment for violating Robin Vos and Scott Suder’s rules:

(c) 1. Any individual who violates par. (a) or (b) may be removed from the visitor galleries and not be allowed admittance to the visitor galleries for a period of 24 hours.

2. Any individual who violates par. (a) or (b) a 2nd time during a biennial legislative session may be removed from the visitor galleries and not be allowed admittance to the visitor galleries until the first roll call day of the next regularly scheduled floorperiod.

3. Any individual who violates par. (a) or (b) a 3rd time during a biennial legislative session may be removed from the visitor galleries and not be allowed admittance to the visitor galleries for the remainder of the biennial legislative session.
That’s right, if you violate their unconstitutional rules once you get banned for 24 hours, twice you get banned until the next floor, period; three infractions and you are banned from the gallery for the remainder of the session (which could be several months). That’s right, for simply violating their rules, which are not constitutional to begin with, you can be shut out of legislative meetings for several months. This means you cannot watch your legislators legislate bills that affect you. This is not acceptable. We are in for a hell of a fight here in Wisconsin. But fight we must and fight we will.
One day longer! One day stronger!

Jeremy Ryan

Executive Director

Defending Wisconsin PAC

[email protected]

Segway Jeremy Ryan has become a full-time member of the protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Formerly a businessman, he gave up his business to join the fight for the middle class in the State of Wisconsin. He rides a Segway due to a heart condition. Through videos and writings he has informed hundreds of thousands of people about what was going on at the Wisconsin State Capitol once the mainstream media had mostly abandoned the protests. He has been arrested 38 times mainly for silently filming or holding up a sign in the Capitol.