Campus Notebook: Protest Pains

Posted June 27, 2008 at 4:42pm

Last week, Denver officials detailed where protesters will be allowed to stand during the Democratic National Convention.

[IMGCAP(1)]The release came a few weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union objected to the vagueness of an earlier plan, which only outlined an incomplete route that ended several blocks from the Pepsi Center, where the convention will be held.

The updated plan describes a 50,000- square-foot area in the center’s parking lot “within view and earshot of delegates and others entering and leaving the Pepsi Center,” according to a press release. The 1-acre plot will be surrounded by wire meshing, which will not “obstruct sight or sound.” It’s also right in the middle of three media pavilions

Protest groups filed lawsuits earlier this year to force Denver and St. Paul., Minn., to release their plans for protest areas as soon as possible.

Both cities have now outlined those plans. Several protest groups are already challenging one St. Paul permit, arguing that the protest route is too small and the timing of the permit misses the delegates’ arrival at the Republican National Convention.

Colorado ACLU officials did not return a call by press time but have indicated they will file a lawsuit if they feel the marked-off protest area curbs their First Amendment rights.

Protest groups have followed convention plans closely, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. That year, officials created a “pen” for protesters that was surrounded by concrete walls, wire fencing and mesh netting, and topped with razor wire. A federal judge called it “an offense to the First Amendment,” but it was too late for changes to be made.

Self-Inflicted Punishment. With energy prices soaring and citizens pinching pennies, Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) thinks Members should forgo their automatic annual raise.

Barrett introduced a bill Friday that would freeze Members’ annual cost-of-living pay increase and suggests the extra money be put toward the national deficit. Some of his constituents, he said, are paying one-third of their weekly salaries “just to fill up their gas tank.” This year, Members earn an annual salary of $165,200.

“I’m not sure too many Americans out there believe we deserve a raise, and I don’t blame them,” Barrett said in a press release. “As their representative I want them to know I understand and while I continue to work to implement policies that lower energy costs, I am willing to put my money where my mouth is and say don’t increase my salary.”

Beefed-Up Oversight. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) introduced a bill last week that would give the Government Accountability Office more power in its watchdog duties.

The bill, co-sponsored by 18 other committee chairmen, would allow the GAO to go to court if federal agencies withhold documents.

“GAO needs unfettered access to federal agencies to help Congress identify waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs,” Waxman said in a release. “This bill says that federal agencies and the White House can’t withhold records that GAO is entitled to review.”

It’s the second bill this year that seeks to make changes to the watchdog agency. Another bill, introduced by Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), would establish an inspector general position and makes pay changes. It passed the House earlier this month, but not before Members’ objections forced out a provision that allowed the GAO access to Medicaid and Federal Drug Administration information now off-limits.

Waxman’s bill picks up that issue. It affirms GAO’s right to get records from three agencies that constantly deny them, according to a press release: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. If the agencies don’t cooperate, Congress would be alerted.

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