Campus Notebook: RNC Protest Blues

Posted July 18, 2008 at 6:08pm

Anti-war protesters must follow a city-designed parade route for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, a U.S. district court judge ruled last week.

[IMGCAP(1)]The Coalition to March on the RNC had argued that the city violated its First Amendment rights, partly because the timing of the permit meant demonstrators would be protesting an empty building. The group also argued that the route can’t accommodate the 50,000 to 100,000 people expected to attend.

But Judge Joan N. Ericksen upheld the city’s decision to deny the coalition’s original request, which asked for a parade route that encircled the Xcel Center and lasted a longer amount of time.

The city-dictated route instead has protesters reaching a corner of the Xcel Center, which will host the convention at the beginning of September.

Ericksen ruled that the city was within its rights in changing the route because of reasonable security measures. She also noted that the parade route comes within 84 feet of one of the center’s main entrances.

The city’s plan, she wrote, “preserves a secured zone around the convention site that mitigates the threat posed by a variety of weapons, that provides a secure space in case an evacuation of the arena is necessary, that provides for the delegates’ safe and orderly arrival at and entrance to the arena, and that allows emergency vehicles to access the arena.”

Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said the coalition has not yet decided whether it will appeal Ericksen’s decision. Much has to be considered, she said, including the cost of an appeal and the risk of losing to a higher court.

But she said Ericksen “misconstrued” some of the group’s arguments, especially its assertion that it has the right to be heard by the delegates. In her order, Ericksen wrote that the coalition “has no constitutional right to physical access to the delegates.”

That, Nelson said, wasn’t the goal.

“We were just asking to be able to deliver our message to delegates and to be in sight and sound of delegates,” she said. “She kind of pooh-poohed that.”

All but the Schnozberries. Staffers can now pick up collard greens, blueberries, cucumbers and other produce in the Cannon House Office Building, courtesy of a new farmers market.

The take-out kiosk opened Tuesday and is located in room B-114, in a corner of Cannon Carry-Out. All produce is grown within a 150-mile radius of the Capitol, according to a press release.

Prices depend on the season and the fruit (or vegetable), said Karissa Marcum, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. But she offered a few examples, ranging from 40 cents for a bunch of mint to $4.95 for two quarts of zucchini (or about six).

The market is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Tax Take-Out. A few Capitol Police officers just lost a tax preparer and a little extra money.

Donald Roberts, the owner of X-Press Refund Tax Service, was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail for preparing false tax returns. Some of his clients were Capitol Police officers.

Roberts told officers that they could claim tax deductions for meals eaten while on duty, according to the government’s Statement of Facts. He pointed to a bogus Supreme Court ruling, telling his clients that they were entitled to the deduction regardless of whether they spent the money.

He also told his clients — officers and others alike — that they could get reimbursed for job expenses such as uniform purchases and mileage, according to the statement.

In addition to jail time, Roberts, 70, was sentenced to six months home detention, a $5,000 fine and 200 hours of community service.

Raising a Vote. Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) introduced a bill Friday that would require Members to vote each year on whether to increase their salary.

It’s the second salary-related bill Barrett has proposed in less than a month. At the end of June, he introduced a measure to suspend Members’ pay increase and suggested the extra money go toward paying down the national deficit.

Barrett has said that he thinks Members should freeze their own salaries — which now stand at $165,200 — until they have lowered the high energy costs that plague Americans.

Private or Bust. The Senate cafeterias are close to being privatized, after President Bush signed into law a bill that preserves the federal benefits of current cafeteria employees.

The bill had to pass before the Senate could sign a contract with Restaurant Associates, a private company that already handles the House cafeterias. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee, hopes that the deal will mean an end to the annual deficits posted by the in-house cafeterias.

“We hope that the contract will be finalized in the coming week and expect the transition to be completed this fall,” Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman wrote in an e-mail.

The bill had a few challenges along the way. It was originally held up in the Senate after a group of Democrats voiced concerns over whether it included enough protections for the long-serving cafeteria employees. Then, in the House, a group of Republicans complained that it extended too many benefits.

But in the end, the measure passed both chambers unanimously.

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