December 5, 2011
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has announced changes to the rules for demonstrations in the state. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, these are some of the new policies:
Groups of four or more people must obtain permits for all activity and displays in state buildings and apply for those permits at least 72 hours in advance. The policy requires permits for 100 or more people outside the Capitol. The policy does provide some leeway for spontaneous gatherings triggered by unforeseen events.
Groups holding demonstrations could be charged for the costs of having extra police on hand for the event. Costs associated with a counterprotest could be charged to that second group. The costs would be $ 50 per hour per Capitol Police officer – costs for police officers from outside agencies would depend on the costs billed to the state. The police could require an advance payment as a requirement for getting a permit and also could require liability insurance or a bond.
The Journal-Sentinel quotes several experts on the First Amendment who are skeptical that Walker’s new polices are constitutional. This should not be surprising, since in some respects they are more onerous than those in Brunei — which is ruled by a literal Sultan and has been under martial law since 1962. Nevertheless, even though some aspects of the freedom to assemble are less restricted in Brunei than in Wisconsin, the State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report criticizes the Sultanate for its polices:
Under the emergency powers, the government significantly restricted the right to assemble. According to the Societies Order, public gatherings of 10 or more persons require a government permit, and police have the authority to stop an unofficial assembly of five or more persons deemed likely to cause a disturbance of the peace.
There is to date no news whether the State Department will release a Human Rights report examining the conditions in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.