By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Protests and demonstrations at the State Capitol are common, but rising political tensions in the last couple of years are changing the tone of what happens in St. Paul.

Recent State Capitol protests looked more like confrontations. Some disruptions even extended to Capitol hearing rooms, where protesters shut down a committee hearing.

One top Republican says it’s endangering public safety, and he’s got a new idea — restricting protest to an on-site free speech zone.

“I think that’s something we should consider,” said Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove). “I’m not sure where [to put the zone]. I don’t have the knowledge of where that should be. Perhaps maybe just on the front steps of the Capitol. Or limit it to the rotunda.”

In May, protesters occupied the entrance of the governor’s office day and night for several days. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith called it a “peaceful protest.”

The Democrat is not concerned about increasingly loud or disruptive rallies she calls “the people’s right.”

“Our goal should always be: protecting First Amendment rights, keeping people safe and making sure that the function of government can continue,” she said.

The state requires permits for organized protests, but those are sometimes interrupted by counter-protesters.

Even so, security officers say they don’t see a big problem…yet.

“Whenever we have events that appear to be of a high profile nature, we have not been hesitant to call in extra help,” said Cpt. Eric Roeske, of State Capitol Security.

State officials recently added hundreds of security cameras during the recently-completed Capitol renovation.

On Tuesday, security officers requested another $36 million to finish the security upgrades on the Capitol complex.

Pat Kessler