Wisconsin republican lawmakers can credit themselves for cherishing the Second Amendment to the point where they just passed a law allowing guns inside the State Capitol.
But they’ve done all they can to suppress the First Amendment, especially when it comes to allowing citizens to record their assembly sessions.
Fortunately, a group of activists have waged an ongoing campaign to highlight this inconsistency.
On Tuesday, 18 people were arrested for either using cameras or holding signs, including one woman who was almost arrested for holding a pack of gum that looked like a camera.
And since March, about 35 people have been arrested for this infraction, said Arthur Kohl-Riggs, who was arrested himself last month.
That arrest got Kohl-Riggs’ press credentials revoked by the Wisconsin Capitol Correspondents Association, an association of mainstream media journalists that covers the capitol and decides who gets press access.
But the association, made up of journalists from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Associated Press and a few local television and radio stations, have just now started reporting on the ongoing arrests in the capitol.
“It’s been going on for months and they haven’t done anything until now,” Kohl-Riggs said in an interview with Photography is Not a Crime Friday.
“These are reporters who work in the capitol, so I believe there are personal and political motivations behind it.”
The issues began in February, one month after republican governor Scott Walker took office when he attempted to do away with collective bargaining rights for public employees to meet his proposed budget cuts.
That led to a series of protests in which more than 100,000 protesters gathered in front of the capitol for weeks to voice their opposition to the proposed budget cuts.
Walker’s bill eventually passed and the protests simmered, but there are still a few that are showing their disapproval towards the republican-majority assembly by silently holding up signs or cameras.
Although state law allows the recording of public meetings, assembly rules forbid it.
On Tuesday, Kohl-Riggs was accompanied by the editor of The Progressive, a national left-leaning political magazine, to see if he could get his credentials reinstated to cover the capitol for them, but the association denied their request.
Kohl-Riggs has since appealed that decision in a letter to the association.
I believe that the decision was unjust and premature. I have not been found guilty of the charges brought against me. It seems clear that there are very real political motivations behind the decision made to revoke my press pass, that situation was made more clear when Mr. Stein told me that complaints from Republican legislators were considerations within the process.
Progressive editor Matthew Rothschild ended up getting arrested himself that night after snapping a photo of another citizen who was getting arrested for taking a photo.
Kohl-Riggs said he has video footage of the arrests which he will eventually post on Youtube.
Since liberal-minded sites like the Progressive and the Daily Kos began began reporting on the ongoing arrests, the local mainstream media had no choice but to acknowledge the issue.
“These arrests appear to violate the spirit and the letter of the Open Meetings Law which, ironically enough, was passed by the Wisconsin state Legislature,” said Bill Lueders, Council president.
“We see no reason that exercising a right guaranteed by state law should lead to people being issued citations or hauled off to jail.”
The Green Bay Press-Gazette, who endorsed Walker for governor just over a year ago, questioned the policy against cameras in an editorial this week.
Both the Assembly and Senate have maintained rules that prohibit the use of cameras, cell phones and video equipment in the public galleries. The Assembly last week voted down a proposed resolution that would have allowed visitors to carry signs into the legislative galleries.
The argument made by the Republican majority was that the tension created by the protests regarding new collective bargaining limits posed a threat to elected officials’ ability to conduct the state’s business without interruption. We disagree and think the camera policy should be reviewed. With the modern technology available today, the public can record the actions and statements of legislators without impeding the work of government.
Last week, a democratic legislator introduced a resolution to allow citizens to quietly hold signs in the chambers, but that was soundly defeated by republicans.
Kohl-Riggs said another democrat, Kelda Helen Roys, intends to introduce similar legislation that will also include the right to use cameras as well as carry signs in the assembly – which is already covered under existing state law – but that will also likely be defeated by republicans, who are not going to budge on anything introduced by democrats.
And that’s pretty sad considering they would rather play politics than honor the Constitution.
UPDATE: Check out what happened to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker when he tried to speak in front of Chicago’s Union League Club Thursday.
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