Monday, August 3, 2015

Capitol at capacity? Lawmaker, others stopped by cops citing crowds

A House lawmaker was among those stopped by police at an entrance to the main Capitol today and told he could not enter the building because it had "reached its occupancy limit."

Capitol at capacity? Lawmaker, others stopped by cops citing crowds


CORRECTION - Post has been updated to reflect gun rights rally to be held on Tuesday.

A House lawmaker was among those stopped by police at an entrance to the main Capitol today and told he could not enter the building because it had "reached its occupancy limit."

Rep. Mike O'Brien (D., Phila) said he was coming back in after grabbing a smoke at midday - about the same time a large rally was scheduled to protest Gov. Corbett's proposed cuts to social service programs.

"I was stopped and made to show ID and told the Capitol had reached its legal occupancy limit and I could not proceed," O'Brien said later on the House floor.

"Where's the legal occupancy limit posted?" said O'Brien in an interview.

Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, said the limit is 300 people on the Rotunda floor.

He said a decision was made to close off access after receiving complaints from Capitol workers that they could not move around the building.  

"It  was an issue of safety based on complaints We still allowed people to demonstrate," he said.

But O'Brien and others say they have seen larger crowds in the past. Ex-Gov. Ed Rendell's spokesman Chuck Ardo said he was unaware of a limit and said there was never a time during Rendell's eight years in office that the Rotunda was closed, even during very large rallies.

Some see it as the latest dust up between the Corbett administration and protest groups - specifically the disabled and others rallying against cuts to social service programs - who say they are being unfairly denied access to legislative and administration offices in Capitol.

"They are aggressively trying to keep people out of the Rotunda area," said Bill Patton, spokesman for the House Democrats.

But Thompson noted the governor's wing was not closed off today and there were no incidents.

Nevertheless rally goers were stopped from going into the most public place in the Capitol, the Rotunda. 

"It's the people's living room," O'Brien said.

After session ended last night, O'Brien said a couple, one of whom was in a wheelchair, stopped him to ask if he was the one who spoke on the House floor about the denial of access.

O'Brien said the woman in a wheelchair told him, 'I came from Erie and they wouldn't let me up.'

"That's a g- shame," said O'Brien, who plans to write House Speaker Sam Smith and the governor about the situation. "The people have a constitutional right to address their governor. He may not like what they have to say but they have a right to say it."

O'Brien wonders if gun owners will get the same treatment when they arrive at the Capitol for their "Right to Keep and Bear Arms" rally next Tuesday in the Rotunda.





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Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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