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Fewer protesters as state budget debate ends

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Protesters crowd the State capitol grounds as members of the Wisconsin State Government discuss a proposed bill by Republican Governor Scott Walker, in Madison February 18, 2011. The proposal by Walker to curb the bargaining rights of public unions in order to make immediate budget savings has sparked outrage among union workers in the state. REUTERS/Darren Hauck
Protesters crowd the State capitol grounds as members of the Wisconsin State Government discuss a proposed bill by Republican Governor Scott Walker, in Madison February 18, 2011. The proposal by Walker to curb the bargaining rights of public unions in order to make immediate budget savings has sparked outrage among union workers in the state. REUTERS/Darren Hauck

MADISON -- The protest crowds are dwindling – and so are the restrictions for getting into the State Capitol.

Starting a week from Monday, all eight entrances will be open again. And the metal detectors that were in place since late February will disappear.

But when things heat up in the future, the administration department will have the authority to tighten up security once again. That’s part of a settlement reached yesterday in a lawsuit filed by the state’s largest employee union. The suit was filed during the peak of the protests over the new state law that limits collective bargaining by public employee unions. The administration defied a judge’s order to resume full access – and until this week’s budget debate, six of the Capitol’s eight entrances were locked and security clearance was needed to get in.

The administration said it was justified in continuing the tight security, citing damage and threats. But this week, two more entrances were opened. And now that the Legislature has approved the state budget, Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch says the time is right to open up the rest of the building.

Under the settlement, Rotunda protest rallies will still be allowed. But signs cannot be put on sticks, and only employees can be in the Capitol after the building officially closes each day.

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