DENVER — Colorado lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are looking to beef up security at the State Capitol with a fence, bullet proof glass and additional cameras.
Those efforts come on the heels of last year’s protests and social unrest, which ended with painted graffiti on exterior granite walls, shattered glass and a knocked over statue.
“We experienced $1 million damage to the building, and it took many months to repair, and repairs are ongoing,” said Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, Chair of the Capitol Development Committee. “We don’t want a repeat of that.”
Hooton said the Capitol Building Advisory Committee and the Capitol Development Committee have reviewed multiple proposals but haven’t settled on any of them yet.
“They’re all open,” she said. “They’re all wrought iron. All of them have the four main entrances to the building completely unobstructed. There would be gates that would be open during the day around the bib of the Capitol where the lawns are to give the public access during the day, and in the evening they would be locked to protect the building.”
Hooton said it’s necessary to protect not only the building, but the visitors and the people who work there.
“We want the building to remain accessible to the public and to be welcoming,” she said. “We will not approve of any design that wouldn’t reflect our values with respect to security.”
Downtown residents and visitors have mixed feelings about the plan.
“I would not like it,” Kelli Shanahan said. “I just think it would take away people’s freedom to move around.”
Jared Wollmann has a different take.
“I think the tax dollars that would go towards a fence around the building would be a one-time thing, and it would prevent further spending to repair vandalism.”
State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said there was a fence around the Capitol years ago.
“It was taken down around the World War because they needed that metal for production,” he said.
The northeastern Colorado senator said he doesn’t want access limited but does want to make sure people who work in the basement are safe.
No one is sharing any renderings of the wrought iron proposals, but Sonnenberg said he favors one that would circle the Capitol just inside the inner ring sidewalk, with a six-foot tall fence.
It would connect from one entrance set of stairs to the adjacent entrance set of stairs and then onto the next.
Sonnenberg said the fence may have some “flexibility built into it.”
He said the estimate he’s heard for the enhanced security ranges between $1-2 million dollars, which he calls exorbitant.
“I can tell you if it’s going to be a permanent iron fence, I’ve got a bunch of ranchers up in northeastern Colorado that can build that fence for much cheaper,” he said.
Some former lawmakers are pushing back against the fence.
Former House Speaker Terrance Carroll told Denver7, “in this environment, people don’t trust their government. That’s a problem for democracy. A fence exacerbates that.”
He and several former lawmakers and governors sent an open letter to current legislative leadership stating that plans for a fence send the wrong message.
“We further recognize that the right of peaceful protest is fundamental. We in no way endorse the acts of vandalism directed at the Capitol last summer, but neither can we support using those events to justify measures that would limit and restrict future peaceful gatherings and protests on the Capitol grounds,” the letter stated.
No timeline has been issued for a final decision.
Hooton said the fence does not require a vote by the entire legislature. She said the Capitol Building Advisory Committee approves the design, and the Executive Committee has final say on any changes to the Capitol or Capitol grounds.