Decorum is the word these past few weeks at the Texas Capitol.
In the Legislature's special sessions, protest has been vocal - both outside the Capitol dome and in House and Senate chambers. Today in the House, five opponents of HB 2 were reportedly arrested by DPS troopers for failing to adhere to the chamber’s decorum. In the Senate, the so-called “citizens’ filibuster” ended the first special session with a deafening crescendo, blocking an omnibus abortion bill in its final moments.
But how does the state define decorum?
The House and Senate, it seems, have near identical definitions. Outbursts, applause and “other demonstrations” are forbidden by gallery guests in both houses; the leader of either chamber can call in DPS to clear the gallery. Signs and placards are banned from both houses’ galleries, as well. Those found obstructing the legislature can face up to 48 hours imprisonment.
Outside the Capitol, however, is a different story.
The State Preservation Board is the entity in charge of maintaining the Capitol and its grounds. It approves all events at the Capitol, before the first protester can hoist a sign.
To host a rally or march organizers and participants must follow certain polices. Here are some of the policies for using the Capitol grounds:
- An organization needs an official sponsors, such as a Senator or Speaker, to get SPB approval for an event
- The SPB will deny an event if it doesn’t serve the public’s interest, damages the grounds of the Capitol, or involves cannons (yes, cannons) on the grounds, or balloons in the Capitol building
- If a rally requests music, the SPB reviews the use of equipment, but the party can’t last all night. Events may only last three hours, and they have to end at 9 p.m.
- Organizations approved for use of the Capitol Grounds are held responsible for any damages done during an event.