By Chelsea Schneider Kirk firstname.lastname@example.org December 30, 2011 2:00PM
Updated: December 31, 2011 2:00AM
A high-ranking Indiana House Democrat sees new Statehouse security measures announced Friday as a ploy to keep union members protesting right-to-work legislation out of the building.
State public safety personnel set a new capacity for the Statehouse at 3,000 people ahead of the Indiana General Assembly session that starts Wednesday. State officials estimate 1,700 people work in the building.
Right-to-work legislation that drew large crowds and led to a five-week walk out by House Democrats last year is expected to become a dominating issue this session. The legislation would prohibit unions from requiring workers to pay fees to the labor organizations
?I?ve been there for rallies with many, many more people,? state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said. ?Obviously it?s an attempt to keep union members out of the building. That?s the only way to look at it. It?s never been done before.?
The public is advised to enter at the east door on the Capitol Avenue side. Signs larger than 2-feet by 2-feet and made of material other than cardboard, poster board or other non-injury causing material are restricted.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, sees the new policy as an attempt to block the public from the Legislature.
?This is not the way for the administration to react to citizens? rights to gather and protest,? Rogers said. ?It?s certainly not the way to deal with the many pressing problems of the state as it relates to the economy and jobs.?
The policy was drafted by Indiana State Police, the state?s homeland security department and the state fire marshal?s office. State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell said the capacity number was based on an analysis of what was a safe capacity level for the building.
Whitesell said large crowds that gathered in the Statehouse during the 2011 session created disruptions.
?During the last legislative session, several scheduled events were interrupted or canceled, and we want everyone who visits or schedules an event in the building to have a pleasant and successful experience,? he said in a statement.
AP contributed to this report.