Minnesota lawmakers and other government officials are raising concerns about the growing intensity of protests at the state Capitol, including two recent events that led to arrests.
Members of an advisory panel on Capitol security met Monday to review current permitting policies for large rallies and protests. They also discussed whether any changes are needed.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said he thinks protests during this year’s legislative session were louder and more emotional than he’s seen in the past. Limmer said he worries about a novice protester who might get swept up in that emotion.
“The protest is very close and it’s becoming very personal,” Limmer said. “If it continues, I think we’re just asking for it. Someone is going to be hurt by that lone individual who’s attracted to the organized event that’s going to do something on their own initiative.”
Limmer suggested the creation of a designated protest area outside of the Capitol building.
Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said he understands the apprehension of Limmer and others. But Nash said he wouldn’t want to restrict access or limit speech.
“This is ground zero for protesting, and all sorts of issues,” Nash said. “I don’t want to be the one that gets in the way of that.”
Seven people were arrested last month at the Capitol when participants in a march against Shariah law clashed with counter protesters. In March, a skirmish between supporters of President Trump and counter protesters also resulted in arrests. Lawmakers were not in the building for either of those weekend events.
Much of the concern among committee members was the result of an end-of-session protest over steps lawmakers took to prohibit unauthorized immigrants from getting drivers’ licenses. Those protesters staged a multi-day sit-in inside the governor’s office.
Sven Lindquist, the Minnesota Senate sergeant at arms, said he’s concerned about similar unpermitted events that are driven by social media.
“So, far so good, but we’re on the verge, we’re on the edge with some of these things,” Lindquist said.
Committee members offered no additional suggestions for policy changes.
State Patrol Captain Eric Roeske said part of the problem is that every protest situation is different.
“We do a very good job of making sure the last thing doesn’t repeat,” Roeske said. “But they always take a different path and we have to react in the midst of that situation.”