COLUMBIA -- A federal court judge could decide as early as today whether the Occupy protesters, who have camped out at the Statehouse for the past two months, have the right to stay or if Gov. Nikki Haley is right to kick them off the grounds.
Tim Liszewski of Columbia was one of about a dozen Occupy protesters who turned out Tuesday for a meeting Haley chaired of the Budget and Control Board. The board voted 5-0 to put a new emergency regulation in place to ban camping, sleeping or engaging in other living arrangements, such as cooking, on Capitol grounds.
The Capitol grounds encompass a one-block area that contains the Statehouse, House and Senate office buildings, state government agencies, monuments and grassy open areas.
"We are engaged in a time-honored right accorded to all citizens," Liszewski wrote in a statement to the board, which did not take public input at the meeting. "It is the right to peaceably assemble and petition our government."
Occupiers have slept in tents since Dec. 14 when a federal judge allowed them to stay until the state puts a new regulation in place. U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie also said the Legislature could adopt a regulation that could limit the protesters through a process that included public hearings.
The court became involved after Haley ordered state law enforcement officials to arrest any protesters on the grounds after 6 p.m. Nov. 16. Nineteen were arrested that night, but the charges later were dropped.
Now, the Budget and Control Board will petition the court to lift the order that allows the protesters to stay on the grounds at all hours. Haley chairs the board, which oversees state government and much of its finances.
Occupy protesters did not ask permission to use the grounds for their protests like other groups, and their presence creates a liability, Haley said.
The Legislature, scheduled to return to session Jan. 10, will decide whether to make a permanent law change on public use of the Statehouse grounds. In the meantime, the board asked staff to draft the permanent regulation.
Will Urquhart, a Columbia videographer and Occupy protester, said the situation did not call for emergency regulations. "We've been out there for 67 days -- no one is calling 911 on us," he said Tuesday.