Arizona legislators on Thursday imposed new restrictions on demonstrations and other public gatherings at the Capitol complex, a reaction to loud noise and congestion resulting from activities that include protests against legislation on illegal immigration in the past two years.
The Legislative Council, a House-Senate oversight committee comprised of legislative leaders and senior lawmakers, voted 8-3 to approve new rules governing activities in the area of the two legislative buildings and the Old Capitol.
The rules bar assemblies within 10 feet of the three buildings and allow amplified sound systems only on nearby lawns and if the group has obtained a permit.
There’s also a 10 p.m. curfew, although one legislator who voted against the rules noted that legislative chambers sometimes hold late night or early morning sessions at crunch times in the legislative session.
Some supporters cited protesters’ use of handheld bullhorns while demonstrating on the concrete plaza between the House and Senate buildings — where the rules now will ban use of amplified equipment — and crowds that gathered right outside doorways to the legislative buildings.
Bullhorns used by protesters against illegal immigration legislation have produced near-earsplitting sound at times, and some lawmakers have complained that congestion made it difficult to enter their buildings.
Majority Republicans voted yes, saying the rules don’t ban demonstrations but set reasonable limits to protect the public, public buildings and the conduct of official business.
“People who have come down here to be part of the process are always welcome,” said House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden.
Democrats voted no, citing concerns about infringing on constitutional rights for assembly, free speech and petitioning the government free speech rights.
“We are dealing with very fundamental rights,” said Rep. Albert Hale, D-Window Rock.
Mike Braun, executive director of the Legislative Council’s staff office, said the rules continue the current practice of requiring individuals or groups to generally obtain permits for rallies and other events involving equipment and sound gear on lawns adjacent to the east sides of the two legislative buildings.
Getting a permit generally requires submitting proof of liability insurance but that requirement will continue to be waived under some circumstances, such as for brief news conferences or gatherings scheduled in response to short-notice developments at the Legislature, Braun said.