INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A prayer group is getting special access to the Statehouse for the opening day of the 2012 session.
People attending Capitol Commission Indiana's prayer day at the Statehouse can show a copy of an email message to skirt an expected large crowd of union members protesting proposed right-to-work laws on the Legislature's opening day Wednesday. News of the waivers emerged after state safety officials set a new 3,000-person limit on the number of people inside the Statehouse at one time.
Capitol Commission State Director Matt Barnes said Monday his group isn't getting special treatment, noting that anyone attending a scheduled Statehouse event will be allowed to use a special entrance.
But Indiana AFL-CIO Spokesman Jeff Harris said the special access is part of an effort to limit public debate at the Statehouse. "I think it's just incredible that the state is now in the position to pick and choose who gets access to the Statehouse," Harris said.
Tracy Jones, Indiana Department of Administration conference center director, wrote in a Dec. 29 email to Barnes that members of his group could avoid long waits Wednesday by presenting a copy of the email to security guards at the Statehouse's west entrance.
"Guests should be instructed to access the State House through the lower west door and check in with the officers upon arrival. Guests may use the east entrance of the State House but please note the east entrance will be for general public and may experience long delays," Jones wrote.
That rule applies to any group that scheduled an event at the Statehouse, not just Barnes' group, said IDOA Commissioner Rob Wynkoop. The Statehouse schedule is typically booked a few months in advance and is already full for the 2012 session, he said.
After it became clear what the legislative agenda would look like for 2012, Wynkoop said he and other state safety officials began planning for another wild session like last year's, when labor protesters filled the halls of the Statehouse almost daily. Their answer included establishing an occupancy limit for the first time.
Labor unions and Democrats quickly called the new limit a move by the administration to stifle debate. But the overall effort to limit capacity and control access to the building is a "public safety issue," Wynkoop said.
The "right-to-work" proposal would ban unions and businesses from signing contracts that mandate workers pay fees to the union for representation. House Democrats left the state for five weeks last year to deny Republicans the numbers needed to pass legislation. They have been mum on whether they will repeat that tactic again this year or try something different.