Republican lawmakers didn’t consult with the Madison Police Department or a local representative before introducing a proposal requiring a security study of the state Capitol that would involve Madison police.
Republicans on the budget committee, which adopted the measure Tuesday night along party lines, said the study is a proactive way to prioritize the safety of visitors and workers in the building in an age of increasing threats.
But Democrats knocked Republicans for not first cluing in the Madison Police Department and not specifically calling on the state Department of Administration to examine whether the Capitol’s policy allowing some firearms is appropriate.
Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain confirmed the department was not contacted by lawmakers about the study. State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who represents the Capitol area, said in an interview she wasn’t given prior notice.
DeSpain said the Police Department is still determining what the effects of the study would be on Madison police, but that it would likely mean the department’s Central District command staff would consult with the DOA.
“I don’t have any specific objection to studying security and safety at the Capitol; however, you have to consider when you do a safety study the presence of guns in the Capitol,” said Taylor, who also sits on the Joint Finance Committee and voted against the study.
People are generally allowed to carry concealed weapons in the state Capitol, except for in the office of the Capitol Police or in the Supreme Court. Legislative offices can also prohibit firearms, and a Republican lawmaker was recently admonished about revealing a concealed firearm in an office that bans such weapons. Open carry is not allowed.
Taylor acknowledged there have been no major problems with firearms in the Capitol over the past several years.
The budget committee plan would require the Department of Administration, in consultation with the Madison Police Department, to study Capitol security and safety and submit recommendations by January 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a statement that the study, which has yet to be approved by the full Legislature and governor, is important given the tens of thousands of visitors to the Capitol each year, including more than 50,000 students.
Fitzgerald said he is unaware of a security analysis conducted of the Capitol grounds “to reflect the world we live in today.”
He cited unlimited building access, surrounding structures and unregulated delivery trucks as posing risks to building security.
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“We’re simply asking for consultation on the day-to-day security operations in the Capitol,” Fitzgerald said. “How can you oppose looking at ways to improve safety in one of the most visited public buildings in the state?”
An Evers spokeswoman declined to comment.
The plan comes amid an era of frequent mass shootings that have prompted various legislative responses. After the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last year that left 17 dead, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law creating the Office of School Safety, which has administered a one-time $100 million grant program to be used for school building upgrades or staff training.
Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, a member of the budget committee, said mass shootings are a concern, as well as other potential threats, such as bombs. He said DOA officials are free to study potential security risks posed by the Capitol’s concealed carry policy, but said it shouldn’t be their chief concern.
“If they think that’s their biggest problem … then we really don’t have a problem,” Olsen said in an interview.
He said he would wait for experts to come up with recommendations on security provisions, but added he imagines lawmakers could consider measures such as locking more of the exterior doors.
He said he doesn’t think banning firearms in the Capitol would alleviate the risk of a shooting because most mass shootings aren’t committed by people with concealed carry permits.
However, a group that tracks mass shootings, in which three or more people are killed, has found at least 34 cases nationwide since May 2007 in which concealed carry permit-holders were involved, though none of them was in Wisconsin.
Democrats also criticized the proposal for not providing money to Madison police for their participation. Joint Finance Committee co-chairman John Nygren, R-Marinette, said more money isn’t necessary because improving security is part of their job.
“Law enforcement is their job, but it’s not their job at the Capitol or the grounds of the Capitol,” responded Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point. “Republicans have made that very, very clear for a very long time.”
The Capitol Police are responsible for patrolling the Capitol and other state properties managed by the Department of Administration.
Olsen said the GOP motion doesn’t technically require the Madison Police Department’s participation. Instead, he said, DOA is required to conduct the study in consultation with Madison police.
He said including Madison police makes sense because they would almost certainly work with Capitol Police in the event of a major incident.