By Sherman Smith, The Topeka Capitol-Journal
The rise of civil disobedience at the Statehouse over the past 18 months, fueled by the Poor People’s Campaign and supporters of Medicaid expansion, exposed a complex landscape where rules diverge from one floor to the next and sanctions are inconsistently applied by law enforcement. Republican leaders in the Legislature, the Democratic governor’s administration and Capitol Police remain entangled in negotiations with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas over how to proceed.
The protest in the Senate balcony revealed a widening fissure among stakeholders involved with safety and decorum in the Statehouse. The ACLU had filed a lawsuit weeks earlier after three Kansas State University students were detained by Capitol Police Officer Scott Whitsell and ordered to stay away from the Statehouse for a year. The ban was rescinded a day later....
The rules set by the LCC were in conflict with a policy rolled out in October by Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration, which has domain over the first and second floors. The new policy for the lower levels no longer restricts the use of signs or requires a legislator to sponsor an activity.
Republican leaders prefer to retain their administrative rule banning anyone from carrying a sign into the Statehouse.
“I think signs can be very dangerous,” Wagle said. “They can be thrown. They can be on poles. They can hurt people. A rod on a sign can be very heavy, and it can be used as a weapon. We’ve never had signs in the Capitol in the past, and I don’t believe we should have signs now simply because there are issues that we debate that people feel very strongly about, and there are people who want to oppress free speech, and there are people who when they get angry they lose their temper and they can hurt someone.”
Oglesby-Dunegan said it was “ridiculous” to suggest a sign is a security threat in a building where the concealed carrying of firearms is allowed.
Settlement talks in the lawsuit revolve around an agreement proposed by the ACLU to allow small handheld signs, a compromise on the need to find a legislative sponsor for a demonstration, and a formal written policy by police for banning people from the Statehouse.
“Some reaction obviously is appropriate if there’s a disruption of session,” said Lauren Bonds, legal director for ACLU of Kansas. “We’re not saying that it’s not appropriate for highway patrol or security or Tom Day to intervene.”