Beginning this morning, protestors at the state Capitol are going to face some new restrictions. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer explains.
On a party-line vote, the Republican members of the Legislative Council voted Thursday to ban bullhorns by those marching between the House and Senate. House Speaker Andy Tobin said the devices are not only disruptive to the legislative process but also interfere with the rights of others. One of those is Kathryn Kobor who told lawmakers she has come to the Capitol for years to protest illegal immigration.
"I have been chased with a bullhorn many times up and down the plaza," Kobor said. "And that hurts, that really hurts. And I have seen some of the senators coming out of the Senate building. And they were also pretty much attacked by the bullhorns."
Senate Minority Leader David Schapira said he has no problem with banning bullhorns right outside the doors of the House and Senate. But he pointed out that the rules also allow the Department of Public Safety to shut down any protest if the Senate president, the House speaker or even the appointed head of the Legislative Council staff determine that, even unamplified, the protests are too loud.
"A bunch of people gathering and just being loud, which is a subjective standard, I don't think that's our right to stop the citizens of our state from gathering in a public space outside of our state Capitol, especially addressing concerns that happen here at the Capitol," Schapira said.
Schapira also objected to a ban on any protests after 10 p.m. This would do more than prohibit all-night vigils. Schapira pointed out that it's not unusual toward the end of the legislative session for lawmakers to be meeting far later than that, saying protestors should not be driven off at any arbitrary time. House Minority Leader Chad Campbell had his own objections. Existing rules already require permits for events that include any sort of setup, whether simply a podium or an entire tent. But the new regulations require that permits be sought at least 10 days ahead of time. Mike Braun, the Legislative Council staff director, said he can waive that rule if it's impractical for a group to meet that deadline.
"If an agenda comes out today for a hearing next Wednesday, and people care about the bill that's on the agenda for next Wednesday, there's no way they could have known before today to fill out their form," Braun said.
But Campbell said he sees too much opportunity for political mischief, if not by Braun than whoever succeeds him: The Legislative Council director can be hired and fired at the whim of the lawmakers on the Legislative Council which is controlled by the majority party.
"I think we're putting a lot of power in the hands of one individual to decide whether or not some organization or some effort out there, if their event or their activity is important enough to waive this 10-day rule," Campbell said.
But Braun pointed out that no permit is required simply to protest in front of the House and Senate if there is nothing being set up. He said protests, complete with banners -- but no bullhorns or excessive noise -- remain entirely unregulated. Tobin brushed aside the objections of the Democratic lawmakers.
"There's no freedom of speech issue here," Braun said. "People who come down here to be part of the process are always welcome. People coming down here to be part of the process shouldn't also be harassed."
The new rules also would continue to allow press conferences between the House and Senate without a permit -- but only if those staging the event do not want a podium or stand for microphones. And, podium or not, a permit would also be necessary for any press conference lasting more than a half hour, or where those involved have brought along more than two stationary flags.