The Colorado legislature is backing off a heavily criticized plan to construct wrought-iron fencing at the state Capitol, House Speaker Alec Garnett said Monday.
“It’s important to know that we listened,” the Denver Democrat said. “We heard folks raise concerns about the plans.”
Previously, lawmakers had planned to spend more than $1 million to construct a fence around the building. It was discussed as part of a roughly $8 million project to enhance Capitol security in response to vandalism during Black Lives Matter protests last year, among other concerns.
Garnett said the legislature will now have a “public process” on this topic. He said the terms of that process have not been drawn up yet and he stopped short of committing to permanently scrapping the fence idea. But he did say the plan has been halted for now, and promised that any future talks would be accessible to the public.
“At the moment, people can feel comfortable that we pressed pause, if not stop, to allow for us to set up that process,” Garnett said. He later added, “It’s essentially a pause-slash-stop of the fence. Clearly, people have opinions on a fence, so let’s set up a process to talk about it.”
Though the fence would have been designed to leave open the Capitol steps and doorways — that is, not blocking public access — the plan was met with swift backlash after The Denver Post published specifics on March 17.
The fencing has been part of a broader, months-long Capitol security conversation that played out almost exclusively in confidential sessions of small groups of lawmakers and state officials. Because of the confidential nature of these talks, the public was caught off guard and so were many current state lawmakers.
The resulting criticism primarily concerned the message that fencing sends and the project’s proposed price tag.
Dozens of former state officials, including Govs. Bill Owens and Dick Lamm and several House speakers and Senate presidents, issued a joint, bipartisan open letter on March 18 urging the legislature to “reconsider the substantive and symbolic impact of placing a permanent fence around the people’s house.”
“Having worked in the building, we understand the importance of measures to protect the members, staff and visitors while on the Capitol grounds,” the letter stated. “We also understand that in times of heightened security concerns, temporary measures may need to be taken that insulate the Capitol from the rest of the city. But these considerations must be balanced with the fact that ours is a free and representative government, and physical barriers between people and the leaders they elect sends the wrong message.”
On Friday, the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee unanimously voted to remove the funding that had been planned for the fence from the proposed 2021-22 state budget, which will be finalized in the coming weeks.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from the community, including former elected officials from both sides of the aisle, that a wall around the Capitol is highly problematic and not befitting of the institution,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat who serves on the Joint Budget Committee. “I’m glad that the (committee) listened and moved to strip its funding. The people’s house must remain open and accessible to all.”
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