Posted Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, at 2:01 PM
MADISON, Wisc. -- Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the GOP's leader in the upper house, said today that access to parts of the Capitol will be closed off to the public starting 6 p.m.
A little background. The occupation of the capitol is, in some ways, a fluke. Citizens are allowed to stay overnight in the Capitol if there is a hearing going on and people are giving testimony. Democrats have had a quasi-official hearing going since the start of this impasse, which has allowed hundreds of people to sleep in the Capitol every night. But since the start of this week, the Assembly and Senate wings of the Capitol have been closed off by police tape, restricting movement. At his presser today and in a short scrum afterward, Fitzgerald explained that the Senate would start limiting access to those areas after 6 p.m. Saturday, restricting the sleepover.
"Some of the Democratic senators have been housing demonstrators in their offices," he explained, "and both the law enforcement and I think some of the other Capitol concerns said that, listen, we're very uncomfortable with people jamming sleeping bags into legislative offices and sleeping overnight. It actually made no sense to have security just outside of the vestibule, and then behind the law enforcements officers, offices that were jammed full of staffers that were hosting protesters.
Follow-up: Will the staging areas be cleared out on Saturday?
"Yeah, I mean, what we're trying to do -- it's actually the staying overnight that I think security, the Capitol police, and certainly other law enforcement agencies were very concerned about.
I asked Fitzgerald about the offices that have been used by protesters, led by the Teaching Assistant Association, as work centers and places to get food and drinks. Would they be cleared out?
"I don't think we're trying to clamp down on that," he said. "I think what law enforcement is worried about is, they have no idea how many people are in one office at night, sleeping bags everywhere. And there were concerns about exiting people out if something would happen, not having any idea how many people are in those legislative offices."
Follow-up: Will the doors to the Capitol remain open? "We had a Senate resolution that shut down the vestibule of the whole Senate chamber. We're going to continue to do that. I don't want this area open to the public. In the South wing, obviously, legislators need to be able to move freely to their offices, and back and forth to the chamber and the office areas."
Follow-up: Is the plan to clear the building entirely? "I don't know what the plan is for the whole building. I know for the South wing, the plan is to keep it open and allow the legislators to move freely."
Follow-up: So senators and legislative aides could be in there, but that's all? "Yeah, I mean, the concern is, they don't know how many people are sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags in these offices that are starting to become either staging places or places to hold protesters. I think that's what the concern is."