Under revised Assembly rules, state Capitol visitors with state permits can carry concealed weapons into the galleries. But they are prohibited from carrying any sign or taking pictures of their elected representatives in action.
Photographers with proper press credentials are allowed to take pictures.
Those rules are a testament to the political power of the pro-gun lobby and the desire of legislators to have every possible advantage in their efforts to get re-elected.
Nine years ago, state Rep. Rick Skindrud, R-Mount Horeb, lost a re-election bid. Republicans complained Democrats had used pictures of Skindrud with his eyes closed during Assembly action.
The pictures, not his voting record, led to the loss, according to Republicans.
This year, Wisconsin became the 49th state to let citizens get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, drafted administrative rules to provide for the safety training necessary to gain a permit.
The requirements included four hours of training and other provisions. Gov. Scott Walker gave his approval, and the rules went to the Legislature.
The Republican-controlled legislative Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules rejected them. The committee action eliminated testing of the trainees at the end of the course, minimum requirements for the instructors and the requirement for signed statements by instructors saying someone had successfully completed the safety course.
Walker’s office said the governor had only “reluctantly” approved Van Hollen’s ideas.
Sheboygan District Attorney Joe DeCecco was livid.
“What began as a very reasonable attempt to assure Wisconsin citizens’ Second Amendment rights has turned into a radical and rabid NRA agenda,” DeCecco said.
Internal Republican politics may also be in play. Among those seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat are Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who in the mid-1990s said a concealed-carry law wasn’t necessary.
While the state was watching the concealed-carry actions, police arrested 18 protestors who had either taken pictures or carried signs into the visitors’ gallery. The signs included pictures of Jesus.
They were given $263 citations for violating the Assembly rules.
The protest was both to trigger a legal test and call attention to the different treatment accorded guns, pictures and signs.
Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 conservative majority, said Assembly rules can supersede any state law.
Political handlers had touted the autumn session of the Legislature to be about jobs. By mid-November it seems the jobs most in play are those of the politicians.
Matt Pommer worked as reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.