-By Scott Bauer, Associated Press
December 1, 2011- MADISON, Wis.— The state can bill organizers of protests at the Capitol for the cost of police protection and any damage to the building, according to a new policy released Thursday in the wake of massive labor demonstrations that erupted over anti-union legislation earlier this year.
The new policy affecting the Capitol and state buildings released by Gov. Scott Walker's administration is effective immediately. It also restricts what protesters can bring inside buildings, barring such items as helium-filled balloons.
The change comes after protests opposing legislation effectively ending collective bargaining rights for public workers resulted in about $8 million in costs for police protection. The rallies grew as large as 100,000 people and smaller rallies, including a daily noontime sing-a-long of protest songs, have continued.
Under the new policy, labor unions, teachers and other organizers of those protests could have been held liable for those costs. The policy says Capitol Police costs will be $50 an hour, but the cost of other law enforcement agencies will vary.
Department of Administration spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said the singers who continue to gather have been contacted to help them come into compliance with the new policy. She said the policy largely puts in writing what had been unofficial policies. No one will be denied a permit to hold an event in or around the Capitol based on the content of their event, Webster said.
"Our goal is to provide equal and continual access for all Wisconsinites to their state buildings in a way that is reasonable and safe," said Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch. "This policy ensures our ability to appropriately staff events for the safety of those participating."
Protesters said the policy won't deter them.