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Silencing the public

Forget for a moment the blatant assault on Hoosiers’ rights to free speech and assembly – just consider the practical considerations of restricting access to the Indiana Statehouse.

The massive government building that has accommodated crowds of thousands for more than a century will now be limited, under a policy announced by the Indiana State Police, to occupancy of just 3,000 – including the 1,700 people who work there each day.

Exactly how the numbers will be limited isn’t clear – employees and visitors can be counted at security entrances, but there are multiple unsecured exits.

Hundreds of schoolchildren visit the building, the seat of Indiana government, each year. Will their numbers displace Hoosiers seeking to make their voices heard during a legislative session?

The new policy limits public access to the Capitol Avenue entrance on the east side of the Statehouse. Access for people with disabilities, the media and pre-scheduled tours will be at an entrance off Senate Avenue.

The restrictions will hinder not just protesters but anyone who needs to visit a Statehouse office or attend a hearing.

Practical considerations aside, there’s the outrage over what is clearly aimed at labor protests over the right-to-work bill that Gov. Mitch Daniels and the GOP-controlled legislature intend to approve.

“This is suppression of workers’ speech,” said Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne. “It’s a deliberate attempt to hide what they want to do, which is to destroy unions and reduce wages for working people. It’s arrogance – it’s almost beyond belief.”

Moses said he believes the new policy originated with the administration, not the state police.

“The people’s house – the Statehouse – is no more,” said Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, “If you’re a lobbyist representing a special interest, welcome in. If you’re a regular citizen, sorry – your house is now closed.”

The policy might be a more clever tactic than protest permit fees proposed in Wisconsin, but it’s every bit as objectionable.