Capitol 'Family Day' lockout

On March 12, a day touted by Republican leaders as an opportunity for John Q. Public to see his Legislature at work, Georgia state troopers barred the doors of the Gold Dome, temporarily shutting out hundreds of visitors, lobbyists and liberal activists.

After House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, scheduled "Family Day at the Capitol," several left-leaning activist organizations - Georgia Equality, Latino groups, labor unions and others - encouraged supporters to show up, prompting concerns about crowd control.

The lockdown of the Capitol, which lasted about an hour, was ordered because the crowd inside exceeded the state fire marshal's posted capacity of 1,725, according to Larry Schnall, spokesman for the Georgia State Patrol, which provides security for the General Assembly.

"Once we reached capacity, we had to stop or slow access into the building," Schnall says.

The anticipated throngs of liberal activists never materialized under the Gold Dome, which made many observers suspicious of the lockout - especially considering that the state fire marshal is none other than famously partisan GOP Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

"I can't imagine any fire marshal with normal eyesight would say that building was overcrowded," says lobbyist Larry Pellegrini.

"Without a doubt, that was not the busiest day we've had at the Capitol," agrees Kristi Huller, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor's spokeswoman.

"I remember being surprised there were so few people inside," says state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. "There was no more than half the crowd there usually is."

Yet, Richardson spokeswoman Michelle Hitt saw things differently: "The Capitol was way more crowded than I've ever seen it."??

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