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Capitol Agenda To Look At Safety Concerns

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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By James Schugel, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — The shootings in Tucson have states looking at security for their lawmakers. At the Minnesota State Capitol, lawmakers started their session last week in a place that is wide open. Anyone can walk right in during the day.

Debate at the capitol isn’t just about bills and the budget — it’s about security too. And the terror in Tucson is adding “fuel to this fire.”

“I think what it says now is we just need to make these things happen,” said State Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul.

Hansen wants metal detectors at the capitol’s gallery entrances, among other things that, he said, will make the capitol safer for everyone.

The idea is meant to protect public officials and the public too.

School children and others come to the capitol every day. At times, some estimate there can be more than 5,000 people at the Capitol, including lawmakers and citizens.

Minnesota is one of 27 state capitols without metal detectors. The capitol also only has three sworn officers on duty and the doors to several offices, including the governor’s, are wide-open.

In fact, it’s awfully easy to get into the State Capitol. There are about two dozen separate entrances including the main one, but you can also get inside through underground tunnels that run from the state office building nearby. Anyone can walk right in during the day.

Keeping the capitol open to the general public has been encouraged by some lawmakers.

“I said it’s completely unacceptable that this building is being locked when we have legislative business going on,” said former State Senator Don Betzold in March 2010.

The new Speaker of the House guarantees a security review, but he won’t guarantee change.

“We want it to be open and accessible, but we always want it to be safe for those that are coming down there, whether they’re an elected official or they’re a high school student coming in for youth and government,” said Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers.

The capitol has added security cameras and the state patrol are trained for the possibility of a shooter walking in.

But more changes means spending money, and when the state has little, they might remain just ideas. And it’s not just the capitol security that’s concerning. It’s the entire complex, including the state office buildings.

WCCO-TV’s James Schugel Reports

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