Naked City

Senate Rules Aren't So Rad

The Rad-Waste Four -- four protesters and members of an anti-nuclear waste group adamantly opposed to dumping at the Andrews waste site in West Texas -- returned to court Jan. 31 to face charges of "disrupting" a May 2001 Senate debate over a bill to send nuclear waste to the Andrews site. The bill ultimately failed, but the protesters -- who were arrested at the Capitol and subsequently jailed for 15 to 40 hours -- are still being tried on Class B misdemeanor charges. During the Senate debate, the protesters called out random admonishments which, according to court records, "made Senator [Robert] Duncan [R-Lubbock] stop speaking and look up in the gallery."

Now, the four activists are crying foul over their current legal strife. "According to Senate rules, they first have to ask us to sit down and be quiet," said Michelle Watson, one of the four. "But they never did that, they just had us arrested immediately." The language of Senate rule 3.05 reads that after "repeated warnings" to "refrain from demonstration," the Senate's Sergeant-At-Arms may clear the chamber. Rule 3.06 says the Senate "may imprison for 48 hours" anyone who violates Senate rules. Watson contends that the current legal wrangling goes far beyond the punitive powers granted the legislators, and is a clear violation of the First Amendment right to free speech -- hence the current legal effort to quash the charges.

In fact, Watson said, the four didn't even intend to "protest" that day, but were overwhelmed by the devastating ramifications the Andrews dumping would have. "It's not like the only reason we were there was to interrupt a meeting," she said. "But we'd done everything we could within the system." The group's lobbying efforts had already fallen on deaf ears, she said, and the meeting seemed like their last chance to be heard. "We're under a terrorist threat," she said, "and it ain't from bin Laden."

County Judge Gisela Triana is scheduled to rule on the protesters' motion to quash the charges Feb. 27 at 9am, in County Court No. 5, on the fifth floor of the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Complex at 10th and San Antonio.

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